Strong Irish exports in 2017

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During 2017, Ireland exported 191,350 tonnes of fresh and frozen pork. This was a 4% increase on 2016.

According to the Central Statistics Office pig meat production for 2017 rose by 4%, compared to the previous year, totalling 294,200 tonnes. This suggests that there was additional product available for export. Although, there was only a modest increase of 1% in pig throughputs, standing at 3.4 million head, suggesting that the average carcase weight rose compared to 2016.

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The UK remained the key destination for Irish pork exports in 2017, comprising over a third of the market share (34%). In January to December 2017 exports to the UK grew by around 14%, totalling 64,222 tonnes. This reflected an increased demand for imported product as UK domestic supplies were on average 1% lower over 2017. China remained the largest international market for Irish pork, however, exports fell by 3% as domestic production capabilities increase. However, Chinese export prospects are anticipated to improve in 2018 with a reduced breeding herd recorded in late 2017 and further farm closures. The growth rate for Irish pork exports in other international markets has been positive. Exports to Japan increased a substantial 44%, putting it in second place in international markets and growth in the Philippines was also strong, increasing by 63%. 

Looking forwards, further growth in Irish pork exports might be anticipated this year. As of 1 December 2017 the total pig herd in Ireland stood at 1.62 million, an increase of 6% on December 2016. This was primarily driven by a 6% increase in finishing pigs, indicating ample supplies in early 2018. Notably, breeding pig numbers also increased by over 2%, suggesting further increases in supply might be anticipated later in the year. The Irish pig meat sector is around 200% self-sufficient, so increased supplies will likely require growth in export volumes in order to sustain prices. As the UK is the primary export destination for Irish pork and other pig meat products, UK producers might feel increased competition from Ireland this year.

Expansion in the Irish pig sector follows strong producer prices received in 2017, which will have helped to restore confidence in the industry. Irish pig reference prices were above the EU average pig reference price between January and April 2017 and again from October through to the end of 2017. However, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit presents a significant challenge to the Irish pig meat industry moving forwards. Unless further market diversification can be achieved, concerns over the future UK-Ireland trading relationship might quell any further breeding herd expansion in 2018. Indeed, numbers of maiden gilts were already back 6% on the year according to the December census, which could indicate some caution around continuing breeding herd growth.

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Abigail Schofield, Trainee Analyst

Abigail.Schofield@ahdb.org.uk, 024 7647 8610