ASF finally catching up with Poland’s pork production
Polish pork production fell by 1% in the first four months of 2019, compared to the same period last year, totalling 702,400 tonnes. This contrasts with the upward trend that had been in place since 2014.
The decline is not surprising. Some of the 5% increase last year was driven by an increase in slaughter as producers exited the industry. Low pig prices across Europe hit producer margins. ASF infections also became more prevalent, forcing culling directly as well as indirectly as producers become increasingly concerned about the financial implications if their unit was infected. ASF first emerged in Poland in 2014, affecting largely wild boar populations but also some domestic pigs. An increasing number of cases have been reported each year.
Herd numbers, therefore, declined drastically over 2018. Total pig numbers fell by around 880,500 head (-7%) from December 2017 to 2018 to sit at a three year low. Sow populations declined 18% over this period, signalling a downturn in domestic pig production.
With such a large downturn in the domestic herd, live imports have prevented a larger decline in Polish pork production. Imports of live pigs under 50kg rose 27% in 2018, totalling 7.2 million head, with much of the stock of Danish origin. With ASF infecting large portions of the country, it would make sense to increase imports from non-affected areas as a short-term solution.
However, weaner/store imports for Jan-April 2019 have eased 3% against last year. This might signify further falls in production later this year. The situation may not be sustainable in the longer term if sow populations continue to decline, as a greater need will be placed on imports.
Despite the ASF crisis, Polish exports have continued to grow. Regulation zones have been set up to enable unaffected areas to continue trading within the EU and to some external countries. Exports of pig meat and offal rose by 2% to 827,600 tonnes in 2018, buoyed by the increases to production. The rise in exports has continued into this year with Jan-April up 4% from last year, reaching 287,600 tonnes, helped by tighter supply in Germany.
Interestingly, imports of pig meat were also lower in the year to April, compared to 2018. Volumes declined by 8% to 235,300 tonnes. Considering lower production levels and higher exports, it seems Polish demand for pork has also fallen. This further challenge for the Polish pig industry may also be discouraging producers from investing in breeding stock.