Overall rise in English pig herd, despite stability for breeding pigs
Defra figures from the December Pigs survey indicate that, as at 1 December 2017, the English pig herd had increased by almost 3% compared to the previous year. This took the total pig population to over 3.7 million head, the largest at this time of year since 2009.
The rise was driven by growth in the number of fattening pigs, which were also 3% higher than year earlier levels at 3.3 million head. This suggests the recent year-on-year growth in pig slaughterings is likely to continue in the short term at least. The increased supplies might mean that finished pig prices remain below last year’s levels, although there is likely to be some seasonality related tightening of supplies in the coming months.
However, Defra’s December 2016 census also indicated a somewhat surprising 2% increase in the finishing herd, despite slaughterings in subsequent months being consistently lower year-on-year. This suggests the absolute figure for 2016 may have been somewhat overstated, and the most recent census results may remain a little inflated.
In contrast, little change was recorded in the English female breeding herd, when compared with December 2016. The published number stands at 325,000 head, only marginally larger than the previous year. With the significant improvement to producer profitability in 2017, slightly larger growth in the breeding herd may have been anticipated, especially considering the high throughputs in recent weeks. However, with the recorded sow herd continuing to grow through the period of poor profitability in late 2015 and early 2016, these figures seem to have been overstated for some time and therefore should be treated with caution.
Nonetheless, the more detailed figures show a 3% fall in the number of in-pig gilts, which may be an indication producers are not pushing for expansion at the moment, due to uncertainty over the future level of pig prices.
Bethan Wilkins, Analyst
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