European/North American Pig Breeding Numbers - The Winners and Losers

The UK pig herd is out of step and running out of time... This month’s Strak report (April 2002) uses the latest DEFRA pig herd census to provide an update on just where the UK pig industry sits in terms of its competitors and in terms of its recent history...
calendar icon 19 April 2002
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Dr John Strak

Dr Strak's views on the UK and global pig markets are produced in Whole Hog every fortnight. For more details click the link at the foot of the article.

The December 2001 census figure places the breeding herd size at 547,000 or 5.4% down on twelve months earlier. As one NPA insider in London said to me when I asked about the latest DEFRA census, “It ’s actually worse than it looks.” Well, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The first chart I want to draw your attention to is one I have shown you before in Pig World – and now updated with the latest DEFRA census. In Chart 1 you will see that the UK herd size has declined by a staggering 32% since December 1997. Only last year’s June census has shown any increase in the herd size in the last three years and this was because farmers could not move pigs off farm under FMD’s livestock movement restrictions. It’s a new UK, and probably a new world record, for cutting back on the pig herd (never mind the curling - if only there was on Olympics medal for pig herd cutbacks, the UK would win it hands down). At this rate the herd will be below half million by the end of next year.

I remember when the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee took evidence on the crisis in the pig industry back in 1998/99: the Minister explained how it was all a short term problem and a mere symptom of the pig cycle that every pig producing country experienced.

Chart 1 exposes that explanation for the incomplete analysis that it was but the Ministry has been quiet since and the Select Committee hasn’t shown any interest in pursuing the crisis story. That’s a shame because there is a real crisis now – the UK’s pig herd has been completely out of step with every other major pig producing country in the world since 1998. For proof of this let’s just look at the UK’s performance in comparison with other pig herds – as Table 1 and Chart 2 detail.

(Please note that, to make the international comparisons, the figures quoted for herd sizes include boars and maiden gilts.)

Table 1: Total numbers of breeding pigs, 1994, 1998, and 2002
‚000 head UK Spain Germany France Netherlands Denmark Canada USA
1994 939 1900 2809 1371 1514 1001 1059 7166
1998 956 2040 2614 1520 1466 1090 1229 6857
2002 635
2510 1275 1148 1440 6209

The data for key pig producing countries are charted since 1984 and tabulated for three years; 1994, 1998, and 2002. In each case the numbers are provided for January or as near as possible to this month of the year. 1994 can be considered to be a “normal ”year and 1998 was the peak of the last pig production cycle. The data illustrate that that there have been some quite remarkable changes in the pig herds of Europe and North America. It’s easy to see who has been expanding and who has been in decline.

Germany and the Netherlands have undergone their own structural changes as Germany has absorbed the inefficient pig production operations of East Germany and the Netherlands has started its adjustment to the EU manure directive. But even these countries have only reduced their herds by 11% and 16% respectively over the period 1994-2002 in response to these major challenges. The USA has also stuck firmly to trend and resisted the temptation to expand in recent years. But with rising productivity the herd reduction has maintained the overall pig crop.

In contrast Canada,France, Denmark and Spain have increased their pig herds. Canada’s herd is up by a mind blowing 36% - and is obviously restructuring onwards and upwards. Closer to home, France, Denmark and Spain are up by 6%, 15% and 8% respectively. And remember,all of these countries suffered the same pig cycle and rock bottom prices in 1998/99 that the UK pig farmer experienced.

The true measure of the UK’s crisis is not the simple reduction in pig breeding herd size between 1994 and 2002. The expansion foregone has to be added to this.

Leaving aside the superlative performance of the Danes, 7%is the approximate average increase in herd size for Spain and France and represents the opportunity lost to UK pig farmers over above the simple calculation of decline in herd size. The 7% increase in herd size between 1994 and 2002 for France and Spain is the expansion that the UK could reasonably have been expected to achieve. But the UK herd declined by 32%. The UK’s pig herd hasn’t just fallen it has fallen at time when other close competitors have increased. The Ministry experts can’t explain this in terms of the pig cycle and that’s why the position is worse than the recent DEFRA census looks.

It’s a pity that the Ministry experts don’t present their numbers for the UK’s pig production and breeding herd size in comparison with other competitors – it would be more meaningful and might bring home to someone in Whitehall or Westminster that the UK pig herd is reacting to more than the pig cycle. That’s why I can say that the UK is out of step with its competitors and, if competitors’ profits and re-investment have kept pace with their herd expansion, the UK is running out of time too.

See you next month.

Reproduced courtesy

Source: Whole Hog, April 2002
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