Irish pig herd now declining
Results from the Ireland Central Statistics Office for the June 2017 Pig Survey indicate that the total Irish pig herd fell by over 2% on the year, to 1.56 million head. Within this, numbers of finishing pigs were back 2%, while the breeding herd fell by almost 4% on 2016 levels.
The decline in breeding pigs was primarily driven by a 7% fall (-5,000 head) in the number of sows in pig. As such, some decline in supplies would be expected towards end of 2017 and into 2018. On top of this, with the number of maiden gilts also back 8% on the year, its seems further decreases could be expected in the longer term.
Given Irish pig prices increased 15% (€0.21/100kg) between June 2016 and June 2017, the decline in the breeding herd could be somewhat unexpected. However, this rise was below the 21% increase in the EU average price. The Irish pig industry is very export dependent, with over 200% self-sufficiency. As such, weakening Chinese import demand, which contributed to an overall 4% drop in Irish pork exports in the first seven months of 2017, may have limited price increases. The weakness of sterling also affected the value of pork exports to the UK, Ireland’s largest pork export market, which were 6% lower year-on-year in euro terms between January and July.
In the shorter term, although there were fewer pigs over 50kg compared to year earlier levels, numbers of finishers between 20-50kg were 7% higher than 2016 levels, following from previous growth in the breeding herd. In the short term, production would be expected to run above year earlier levels. However, declining sow stocks already seem to be showing in weaner numbers, which were 8% lower than 2016 levels. This may suggest production could fall back in the mid-term.
Irish pork accounts for around 10% of UK pork imports. A decline in Irish production could possibly translate into fewer shipments to the UK, and as such prove supportive to the UK market. With UK production expected to increase marginally in the coming months, developments in Ireland could be a watch point moving forwards.
Bethan Wilkins, Analyst
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