The need to downsize the US hog herd remains, according to market analysts who note that producers' efforts to cut back on sow numbers are being offset by an increase in productivity and litter sizes.
The average number of pigs saved per litter reached a record high 9.61 for the March-May 2009 period, compared to 9.38 last year, according to the latest USDA Hogs and Pigs Report.
“We are cutting back, but it's at an awfully slow rate,” says Ron Plain, a University of Missouri professor of agricultural economics who participated in the Pork Checkoff's recent ag media teleconference to discuss the report. “I think it will take a 10% reduction in the sow herd to make a difference.”
The US inventory of all hogs and pigs on June 1, 2009 was 66.1 million head, down 2% from June 1, 2008, but up 1% from March 1. The breeding inventory, at 5.97 million head, was down 3% from last year and down slightly from the previous quarter.
The market hog inventory, at 60.1 million head, was down 2% from last year but up 1% from last quarter. The March-May 2009 pig crop, at 28.5 million head, was down slightly from 2008 but up 2% from 2007.
US hog producers intend to have 2.97 million sows farrow during the June-August 2009 quarter, down 3% from the actual farrowings during the same period in 2008 and down 5% from 2007.
While the pork industry has struggled with red ink for 18 of the last 20 months, largely due to high feed costs, the market may be bottoming now from the hit it took this spring from the H1N1 virus scare in April and May, says Bob Brown, an independent market analyst from Edmond, Okla.
“It appears that the flu scare damaged domestic and export demand. However, when you look back to December of 2003 when the first mad cow case occurred in the United States, the market rebounded two months later to the point where it was before the mad cow case was announced.”
The full USDA Hogs and pigs report can be viewed here.