EU pig herd still contracting despite rising returns
Figures from May/June agricultural surveys show a decline in the pig herd across the major EU producing nations. The total pig herd in the EU member states carrying out a survey* decreased by 2% year-on-year, to 137.3 million head. This was the lowest level since 2016.
There was also a sharp decline in the breeding herd, to at least a 10-year low. The number of sows decreased by 3% compared with June 2018.
Looking at the figures in more detail, numbers of both maiden and in-pig gilts were also down overall. This suggests that producers are still generally not looking to expand, despite improving margins. Increasing environmental and animal welfare regulations in some Northern European states are encouraging some producers to exit the industry. The spread of African Swine Fever also remains a threat and is taking a toll on pig numbers in Poland and Romania.
Gilt numbers were even down in Spain, where the herd has generally been expanding, perhaps suggesting this phase could be slowing now. However, overall, the Spanish breeding herd was still 2% larger than a year ago. Increasing Spanish slaughter capacity, and good demand from export markets has enabled market growth.
Piglet numbers were stable across the Member States supplying data, indicating that productivity has improved recently. Numbers in the feeding herd overall were still 2% lower though. This suggests supplies are likely to remain tight until late 2019 at least.
With a smaller breeding herd, these figures also don’t point towards a return to growth next year. Though of course, this depends on how well the herd performs. Although the Chinese market offers opportunities, it seems producers are aware that the current positive situation will not last forever. Demand from EU consumers remains generally subdued, and this weighs on the long-term market outlook.
*The summer survey is not conducted by all states but covers over 90% of the EU pig herd