Mixed messages for UK pigmeat supplies

The UK’s pig breeding herd has risen by 2%, according to analysis of pig industry supply trends from the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The latest figures, from the MLC’s December 2006 survey, showed the UK’s breeding herd had risen to 449,000 head.

But the MLC claim this increase was partly due to an underestimate of the December 2005 herd size.

The MLC forecast that increased costs arising from Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and feed price rises may result in a drop in the size of the herd to 440,000 by the end of 2007.

Reported increases in sow productivity to 20 pigs per sow per year improving by a further 3% in 2008 should lead to a rise in clean pig slaughterings from 8.9 million last year to 9.34 million this year.

Average pig carcass weights are expected to increase to 75.6kg which linked to higher productivity should result in a 6% uplift in total pigmeat production.

According to the MLC this will be the first annual pigmeat production rise since 1998.  They are forecasting a further 1% increase in 2008.

Higher slaughterings could also lead to a drop in the volume of imported pork hitting the domestic market, but while this remains cheaper than the UK equivalent, imports will always remain a threat.

UK pigmeat exports are forecast to rise to 107,000 tonnes this year from 102,000 tonnes in 2006.

The MLC report claims that much of this is accounted for by increased sow cullings which may be reflected by higher gilt replacement levels reported by breeding companies.

The main challenge facing the EU wide pig herd is however the rising cost of feed.  Ex farm feed wheat quotes are heading towards the £100/tonne mark compared with £71/tonne a year ago.

Pig traders believe that unless EU pigmeat values increase by over 5% for the second half of 2007, more sows will be culled reducing the size of the UK herd to less than 3.5% of the EU total.