German breeding herd continues to contract
Provisional figures from the November census indicate that, at 27.3 million head, the German pig herd had fallen by 1% relative to the same point in 2015.
While pig numbers had increased by 125,000 head since May, the first positive movement since 2014, the total nonetheless represented the smallest November pig herd since 2010.
The decline was driven by a drop in the number of breeding pigs, with both in-pig sows and gilts down by more than 3% compared to the same point a year earlier. German weaner and finished pig prices have been well above year earlier levels during the second half of 2016. However, the continuing poor financial situation of producers and increasing regulation have encouraged further rationalisation of the breeding herd.
Reflecting this trend, the number of German farms keeping breeding pigs fell ahead of the overall decline in pig holdings given increasing herd sizes. Breeding units were back over 8% relative to November 2015, at 8,800, while the total number of pig farms fell by 5% to 24,400.
The smaller breeding herd translated into a substantial 7% fall in the number of young pigs (<50kg), and piglet numbers were also back, by 2% on November 2015. However, numbers of finishing pigs countered the general trend and actually increased on the year, climbing 2% to 12.2 million head. Heavier pigs drove this movement, with the number of pigs over 80kg up 4% on the year earlier figure.
Increasing numbers of weaners imported for finishing have reportedly supported the fattening pig population in spite of the declining breeding herd. Increases in sow productivity have also minimised the impact of lower sow numbers. In the short term, German pig slaughterings may actually be similar or above year earlier levels as has already been the case in the last two months of 2016 based on provisional data. Though, with numbers of lighter pigs back in November, and the breeding herd continuing to fall, unless further imports are sourced a decline in slaughterings would be expected later in 2017. This could help support prices at a time when domestic demand for pig meat may well remain under pressure and Chinese demand, a key supporter of European pig prices during 2016, may ease back.
Bethan Wilkins, Trainee Analyst
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