US pig herd records modest growth

Thursday, 1 October 2020

The US pig herd has grown once more, according to the latest figures from the USDA. As at 1 September, the national herd stood at 79.1 million head, up 1% from the same point last year.

A 1% rise in numbers of slaughter pigs drove the overall increase, in particular numbers of heavier pigs. Industry reports suggest that labour issues caused by COVID-19 disruption, and producers slowing pig growth rates have contributed to the higher numbers. The breeding herd shrank by 2% from last year, potentially signalling future herd contraction. Sow slaughter is 12% higher than last year for the year to August, which aligns with expectations for lower farrowing going forwards.

The June-August 2020 pig crop stood at 35.1 million head, down 3% from 2019. The average litter size per sow during the period was 11.04, compared to 11.11 last year (-1%). Sows farrowing during the period stood at 3.18 million head, down 3% on the year. According to the survey, US hog producers are expecting that farrowing will be lower for the rest of the year.

Despite the higher numbers, US pig prices have rallied since June-July, suggesting strong demand for pork. More recently, the discovery of African Swine Fever in Germany on 10 September has fuelled optimism in the US that China may turn to it, to fulfil its import demand.

Industry reports suggest that a backlog of pigs caused by COVID-19 disruption to slaughter capacity is decreasing. Indeed, total pig slaughter for Jan-Aug is now 2% above last year’s levels, according to the USDA.

Some industry reports have questioned the official numbers, suggesting the slaughter statistics and inventory don’t align. They argue that the USDA inventory is too high, and that numbers on the ground are actually tighter, a sentiment supported by the price trend.

Hannah Clarke

Analyst - Livestock

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