UK/EU Pig Market Update - December 2003

By the British Pig Executive - This BPEX report looks at the current market situation in the UK and reviews recent price trends and markets throughout Europe.
calendar icon 3 January 2004
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Producer Prices

British Pig Executive

United Kingdom producer prices have been drifting downwards since the middle of November under the combined pressure of a slowing of Christmas demand by processors and retailers and continued declines in the overall EU market. The average price in the week ended 20 December, at 101p/kg dw, was about 6p less than a month earlier.

However, the market is finishing 2003 on a firmer tone than the previous year, as in mid-December 2002 the price averaged just 91p. The average producer price in 2003 as a whole is estimated at 103p, 9p higher than in 2002 and the highest annual average since 1997. But the second half of 2003 saw some sharp increases in feed prices, which are likely to have offset at least some of the effect of higher prices.

Seasonality of GB Pig Prices

Weaner prices have fallen slightly. In the week ended 20 December, 30kg weaners averaged £32.75/head just over £1 lower than a month earlier. In contrast, cull sow prices have fallen much more sharply, with prices dropping by a quarter in the first three weeks of December. Declining EU prices are likely to have been the primary cause of market weakness.

EU pig prices are continuing to move lower. There have been some increases in slaughter levels, with Denmark and Germany both higher in November, while export demand is currently under threat from the appreciating value of the Euro against the US dollar. The Euro was worth 124 US cents in mid-December, 5 cents more than a month earlier and 21 cents more than a year before.

The EU reference price lost a further eight per cent of its value in the month to 14 December. Prices declined in most of the major producing countries. There were particularly marked falls in the Netherlands (-15%), Italy and Germany (both down 11%), France (-8%) and Denmark (-6%). Spanish prices only fell by one per cent over the month although they are still down by about 25 per cent on their mid-year values. The impact of declining pig prices on producers in the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU will have been particularly acute as it has coincided with a period of rapidly increasing feed costs.

Although UK prices have been declining, the more marked drop in the average EU price meant that the UK premium over the average EU price has continued to increase. In the week ended 14 December it stood at 23p/kg, up from 21p a month earlier.

Comparison of UK and EU Pigmeat Reference Prices (a)

(a) Price based on EU dressing specification adjusted to cold carcase weight. These are gross prices before deductions for transport, etc. MLC estimates that the typical deduction in the UK is 4.5p/kg compared with an EU average of 2.6p

Aids to Private Storage Scheme

An aids to private storage scheme for pig meat was agreed at a pigs management committee meeting in December. The scheme opened on 22 December.. A number of member states had pressed for market support in view of the depressed EU pig prices. Pig meat can be stored for three, four or five months with the option for removal after two months if the meat is for export outside the EU. The minimum quantities per contract are 10 tonnes for boneless cuts and 15 tonnes for bone-in products.

The rates of aid are the same as under the previous scheme. No closing date for the scheme has been set. Last year the scheme ran from 9 December 2002 until 19 February 2003. Some 111,000 tonnes were contracted EU wide. 956 tonnes were contracted for storage in the UK.


Clean pig slaughter levels remained well below corresponding 2002 levels throughout 2003. This has arisen in part from a lower breeding herd but more importantly from poorer sow productivity. Defra slaughtering statistics for November indicate that UK throughputs averaged around 184,000 head. This was up slightly from the previous month and considerably higher than the low point of April-August, when it averaged 169,000 head, but it was still 14 per cent lower than a year earlier. At the time of writing, weekly slaughterings estimates are only available for the first half of December. However it seems likely that annual clean pig slaughterings in 2003 will total about 9.1 million head, 11 per cent lower than in 2002 and the lowest level for 47 years.

Estimated clean pig slaughter levels in November

A number of factors are likely to have contributed to lower productivity in 2003, including:
  • Reports of some sporadic increases in PMWS incidence in the early part of the year.
  • Some disruptions to breeding patterns and performance arising from a significant number of producers depopulating and then repopulating in both 2002 and 2003.
  • A developing sow infertility problem in the 2002 autumn, which affected clean pig slaughter levels in the April-June quarter.

From the middle of the year through to September there was some recovery in productivity, as these factors have become less acute. But the extent of the recovery so far is likely to have been held back by increased mortality and poorer growth rates, arising from the hot summer weather. October and November saw productivity stabilising, contrary to earlier expectations.

The hot summer weather is also likely to have a longer-term impact on the UK pig meat sector. The heat affected conception rates, which is likely to have a negative effect on slaughter levels in the spring of 2004.

Estimated GB Sow Productivity Trends (a)

(a) Defined as monthly clean pig slaughter annualised and divided by estimated breeding herd 7 months earlier. Ratios are deseasonalised and smoothed. Adjustments made to take account of Swine Fever in 2000 and FMD in 2001.

Rises in Feed Costs

A report has recently been produced by BPEX/MLC which examines the impact of higher feed costs on the pig sector. Over the past few months feed prices, both cereals and proteins have increased rapidly. Feed wheat prices are currently at their highest level for seven years. Some producers are already paying more for feed but the majority of pig producers have not yet been exposed to higher feed costs, as the common practice is to make feed purchase contracts several months in advance. However, over the course of the next few months an increasing number of producers will have to pay higher feed costs as their current contracts come to an end.

One factor which distinguishes this from previous problems that have hit the industry – very low prices in 1998, CSF in 2000 and FMD in 2001 – is that British pig meat is not suffering alone. Prices have risen throughout Europe, often by more than in the UK.

The feed situation is very volatile this season, and is likely to remain so over the next few months. One example of this is a downwards revision of the 2003 UK wheat harvest by Defra at the beginning of December (of 500,000 tonnes) which put £5/tonne on feed wheat prices in a single day.

Feed accounts for around half of total costs. The higher prices of feed in Great Britain could add potentially around 20p/kg to the cost of producing a pig, taking the total cost from about 100p/kg to 120p. However, not all producers will face the same increases at the same time as much will depend on how much feed they have in store or how far ahead they have contracted to purchase feed.

Click here to download the complete report. (PDF Format)

Trade and Consumption

The continued cutbacks in UK production have meant that pork imports were at record levels in 2003. In the second quarter of the year, quarterly pork imports reached 100,000 tonnes (carcase weight equivalent) for the first time, and they remained around this level in the July-September quarter. In total, pork imports in the first nine months of 2003 were 33 per cent higher than in 2002. Lower UK production has also led to a decline in UK exports, although the export trade is likely to have benefited from exchange rate movements in 2003. In January-September 2003, total pork exports were 20 per cent lower than the year before.

Total pork consumption (including processed, but excluding bacon) is estimated to have increased eight per cent year on year in the first nine months of 2003. Trends in retail purchases indicate that all of this increase has occurred in the processed sector. The British share of the UK market declined from 64 per cent to 56 per cent.

Bacon consumption also increased in 2003, rising by three per cent in the first nine months of the year. As with pork, there was some increase in the share of the market accounted for by imports.

Quarterly Pork Imports

Retail Purchases

In the 12 weeks to 7 December, pork volume purchases were down by six per cent and bacon by three per cent compared with a year earlier. However, higher retail prices led to expenditure on pork increasing by one per cent and bacon by two per cent. The continued decline in UK pig meat production meant that there was a marked shift in the relative importance of home-produced and imported bacon, with purchases of British bacon down 21 per cent on a year earlier.

Purchases of most processed pig meat product types continued to show good growth rates in the latter part. Purchases of frozen pork products were up four per cent while there were also increases in pork sausages (+15%), sliced cooked pork (+6%) and ham (+6%) and sausage rolls (+8%).

Changes in Retail Purchases and Expenditure

European Pig Production Forecasts

Overall EU pig production in 2003 was forecast by the EU Commission in November to remain relatively stable compared with 2002, with total pig slaughterings expected to be about 202 million head. The total increase in worldwide pig production has affected the European market through the displacement of European product from the usual third country export markets such as Japan and Russia.

The number of breeding sows in Germany showed an increase year-on-year, although overall German supplies of slaughter pigs in 2003 are forecast to remain stable, at 40.8 million head. The Spanish survey data actually show a decline in the number of breeding sows. However, following the last few years of substantial growth these data are thought to be inaccurate. The EU Commission forecasts Spanish supplies to increase by just over one per cent. However, it is believed that this is underestimated and the increase in slaughterings in 2003 compared with 2002 is more likely to be nearer seven per cent.

Pig numbers in Denmark have also shown an increase year-on-year with a rise in the number of breeding sows, in particular replacement gilts. Gross indigenous production forecasts are expected to rise in line with the increase in the pig herd. The census data show that the Italian pig herd has increased substantially. However, the methodology used in collecting data has changed, thus, preventing direct year-on-year comparisons from being made. It is thought that the overall Italian pig herd is a similar size to that in 2002. Productivity is up as carcase weights increased and in 2003 gross indigenous production is expected to increase by two per cent, to 6.3 million head.

Both the UK and the Netherlands showed a decline in their pig herds in 2003. As a result, gross indigenous production is expected to be three per cent lower in the Netherlands and 12 per cent lower in the UK. In fact net production in the Netherlands is actually expected to be 12 per cent lower owing to the increase in live exports to Germany, encouraged by higher prices.

Rising feed prices and supply shortages will have a significant impact on pig production within the EU in 2004. Increasing costs of production are likely to reduce supplies of pigs. Another implication of the hot summer in 2003 is the reduced fertility of sows during the hot period, delaying farrowing and thus educing supply in early 2004. Acceding member states will have additional pressures of meeting EU requirements so are unlikely to increase their supply to other member states within 2004.

Source: BPEX - 29th December 2003

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