US Swine Economics Report

by 5m Editor
13 July 2004, at 12:00am

Regular report by Ron Plain on the US Swine industry, this week discussing US progress toward leaner hogs

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Ron Plain
Ron Plain

For over 50 years, U.S. hog producers have been striving to market leaner hogs. During the early 1950s leanness was achieved by reducing slaughter weight. In 1956, the average live weight of barrows and gilts at slaughter was 30 pounds lighter than in 1945. In recent decades, hogs have simultaneously gotten bigger and leaner, a significant accomplishment since hogs naturally become fatter as they grow larger. Progress has been slow, as genetic change always is; but the change has been enormous. In 2003, the average market hog carcass weighed 197.96 pounds and was 53.95% lean meat.

Until the advent of mandatory price reporting, we had limited data to measure actual progress toward leaner hogs. Beginning in August 2001, USDA began publishing daily data on the percent lean of barrow and gilt carcasses slaughtered by major U.S. packers. This data reveal a seasonal pattern with slaughter hogs leanest in late winter and fattest in the fall.

The year-over-year comparison of leanness showed steady improvement through September 2003. Since then, the monthly average percent lean of hog carcasses has been below year-ago levels seven times, even with year-earlier once and leaner than a year earlier once (November 2003).

The significance of this is unclear. The lack of improvement could be due in part to over-finished hogs. The average carcass weight during the past nine months was 1.24 pound heavier than during the same period a year earlier. The decline in percent lean may be due to high soybean meal prices causing producers to feed less protein in hog rations. The decline may be part of the natural year-to-year fluctuation in leanness. Or, it just may be that producers have pushed leanness as far as consumers want. Leaner pork has fewer calories; but it also has less flavor. If pork is now as lean as consumers desire, it opens the door to an even more rapid increase in slaughter weight.

5m Editor