New figures from DEFRA show a worrying drop of 7.2% in the size of the female breeding pig herd.
The department’s December 2005 Survey of Agriculture showed the national breeding herd has fallen to 441,000 head, compared to 475,000 a year before.
A further reduction in the size of the national herd will also hit abattoir throughput, with many pig plants already operating at well below economic levels.
Output of 19 pigs/sow/year sold produces a weekly kill of circa 160,000 head.
This compares with 306,000/week in January 1999 and paints a bleak picture for an industry which is continuing to lose market share to foreign pigmeat imports.
But the National Pig Association is pointing to a positive finding in the survey which show in-pig gilt numbers up by 3% as a proportion of the breeding herd.
A return to better UK pig prices would also help to encourage further re-investment in stock and equipment, as spot pig prices are currently 8% (£5 – £7/pig) below their level 12 months ago.
Large scale producers will also need to meet the financial demands of updating their units to comply with upcoming Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control measures, which come in in 2007.
Unless pig prices have returned to profitable levels by the end of this year, some producers may downsize or close their units rather than invest yet more capital.
Based on the latest census figures, the UK herd now accounts for only an estimated 3.5% of the EU total, which will inevitably lead to greater competition from imports in the future.