According to the 2012 June Survey of Agriculture and Horticulture, the UK pig herd was slightly larger than a year earlier. However, the size of the female breeding herd was slightly lower than in June 2011 at 425,000 head, despite a small increase in in-pig sows and gilts. The number of maiden gilts was up nine per cent at 82,000 head.
However, the timing of the June census meant that it was taken before the recent rapid rise in feed prices. This has meant that the cost of pig production has risen sharply, meaning that most producers have remained in a loss-making position. For some this has led to a decision to leave the industry entirely, while others have decided to reduce the size of their breeding herds to mitigate rising losses.
According to AHDB estimates, between mid June and mid October the number of sows slaughtered was around 14,000 higher than in the same period last year. With market conditions little different in other respects, this is likely to be the result of producers’ decisions about liquidating or temporarily destocking herds. This suggests a fall in the breeding herd is likely between June and December, the next point when a census will be carried out. The decline may amount to 20,000 head by then, taking the breeding herd to around 405,000 animals.
Slaughterings of clean pigs for the remainder of 2012 will not be affected by the anticipated fall in the breeding herd, since these pigs were born to sows served before feed prices began to rise. This means that the increase in slaughterings recorded so far this year should continue in the fourth quarter. Slightly lighter carcase weights will be offset by increased sow slaughterings meaning that the rise in pig meat production will be similar to the rise in slaughterings, around three per cent. Clean pig slaughterings for 2012 as a whole are expected to pass 10 million head for the first time since 2002. Looking ahead to 2013, the expected reductions in the breeding herd should outweigh productivity improvements, leading to a two per cent drop in clean pig slaughterings for the year as a whole. Sow slaughterings and carcase weights are likely to return to more normal levels so pig meat production will also be down by about two per cent. The decline will accelerate as the year progresses when the full impact of the fall in the breeding herd will be apparent.
November 2012/ BPEX/ United Kingdom.