Wednesday, 26 February 2020
By Bethan Wilkins
At the end of November, we released our latest forecast for UK pig meat production in late 2019 and into 2020. Here, we look at how our estimates have compared with actual numbers over the past few months.
Source: Defra, AHDB. Figures in bold are forecasts. Figures have been converted back to statistical months.
Clean pig slaughter:
We estimated that clean pig slaughter in the fourth quarter would total 2.81 million head, 3% higher than in 2018. Actual slaughter turned out a little higher than this, at 2.85 million*, up 4% year-on-year, but this is within the bounds of normal variability.
Looking at the start of 2020, we were expecting the growth in slaughter numbers to ease back to around 1% year-on-year. However, the slaughter pace in January was higher than this.
We continue to hear reports of some challenges with productivity and disease, so it may be that growth slows in the coming weeks. Our GB slaughter estimates in the past couple of weeks have been closer to year earlier levels.
Alternatively, it may be that the breeding herd has grown by more than we expected. This would mean we continue to see numbers above the forecast coming forward.
Sow slaughter came out quite a bit higher than expected in quarter four, at 63,000 head*, a similar throughput to in 2018. We had expected slaughter to remain low in 2019, before increasing in 2020, reflecting an older age profile in the herd. It may be that high cull sow prices in quarter four encouraged some producers to cull pigs earlier. In January, throughput was lower than expected which could also supports this view.
As expected, carcase weights remained above year earlier levels in quarter four. However, weights averaged 800g more than expected, at 85.3kg. This is despite good demand, with pigs pulled forward to supply Christmas and Chinese New Year markets.
Early this year, we had expected growth in carcase weights to level off, with higher-than-usual demand expected to encourage pigs to be slaughtered earlier than usual. However, this has not been the case so far. In January, carcase weights averaged 85.4kg, 800g heavier than January 2019.
Pig meat production totalled 252,000 tonnes* in quarter four, 6% higher than in the same period of 2018. This was more than the 3% growth we had expected, due to the cumulative effect of higher throughput, sow cullings and carcase weights. January production has also been higher than expected, though this could still ease back for quarter one overall, if throughput continues to fall back.
*Note that, to enable comparison with the forecast, the Defra figures have been converted to statistical months.