Bumper US pig crop exceeds previous expectations

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According to the latest USDA Hogs and Pigs report, as at 1 December 2016 the US pig herd stood at 71.5 million head. This figure, 4% higher than the same point in 2015 and marginally above the revised September estimate, represented the largest December pig herd since 1943.

Significantly, the number of pigs available for slaughter was well ahead of previous expectations, with market pigs weighing up to 179lb (81kg) showing a 4% increase on last year’s levels. This meant that, at 65.4 million head, the overall number of slaughter pigs was the highest since records began in 1963.

The increase in the breeding herd, up over 1%, also exceeded expectations given the difficult finished pig market during the autumn. The increase in sows farrowing in the September-November period was as much as 4% and given also the higher number of pigs weaned per litter this will lead to further marked increases in the pig herd. The average number of pigs weaned per litter between September and November was also a record 10.63, which was 1% higher than during the same period in the previous year. At 32.3 million head, the estimated pig crop for this period was therefore up a substantial 5% on 2015 levels, and was another record high for this period.

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Reflecting the larger pig crop, slaughtering rates are expected to be elevated in the coming months, with US pig meat supplies remaining plentiful. Looking further forward, winter and spring farrowing intentions are reported at 1% higher than the actual 2016 figures. Further increases in pig numbers on top of the 2016 records may therefore be expected later in the year, particularly as farrowing intentions have been underestimated in previous quarters. Plentiful feed supplies, along with pig futures prices continuing to trade at a level profitable for producers, especially for those locked in to a margin, are thought to have incentivised further expansion. Nonetheless, the US will need healthy pig meat exports this year if the upcoming supply increase is to avoid severely depressing prices. The availability of cheap US pork could seriously threaten the competitiveness of EU pig meat, reducing its demand on the global market place.

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Bethan Wilkins, Trainee Analyst

bethan.wilkins@ahdb.org.uk, 024 7647 8757