English pig breeding herd- is it really the smallest on record?

Thursday, 24 September 2020

By Bethan Wilkins

Results of the June Agricultural Survey for England were published today. The figures suggest that the English pig breeding herd decreased over the last year, to 316,000 head, the lowest number on records going back to 1983. This result is not in line with our expectations.

It is worth bearing in mind the size of the confidence intervals for the pig survey. Defra are 95% sure that the female breeding herd is between 300,000 and 332,000 head. This is quite a wide range for a figure that is not particularly variable year by year and makes it difficult to draw conclusions from the annual changes reported.

The maiden gilts number in particular should be treated with caution; the 95% confidence interval ranges from 61,000 up to 91,000 head, which is a wide range for such a small number.

If the figures were correct, the drop in the number of in-pig sows and gilts would probably cancel out any productivity improvements recorded, constraining the number of piglets born over the summer. In turn, this would indicate that pig supplies would stabilise for the rest of the year.

The figures for the number of fattening pigs are also unexpected. They show a slight decrease, with 17,000 fewer pigs compared with a year earlier. With sow productivity improving during the start of this year, this seems unlikely (unless the breeding herd was declining in the second half of last year, against our expectations).

Many of the fattening pigs would have come to slaughter since June, but throughput has remained up on the year. Defra figures show that English clean pig slaughter between June and August was up 1% on a year earlier. Our estimates for GB throughput suggest numbers have been up by as much as 11% year-on-year in September so far.

Census figures for the UK as a whole are due to be published next month.

Bethan Wilkins

Senior Analyst - Red Meat

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