Pork Commentary: South Korea battles disease, high feed prices and environmental issues, but pork's still profitable

SOUTH KOREA - Last week, Jim Long went to South Korea, visited several swine producers and picked up some very interesting facts and figures...
calendar icon 6 June 2007
clock icon 5 minute read

Our observations:

South Korea is a country that is 300 miles long and 180 miles wide. The country is 70 per cent mountains. In the other 30 per cent there are over 40 million people. Not much land to grow crops. What we saw is every nook and cranny that didn’t have a building on it was growing something to eat. Lawns are something that do not appear to exist. The average field looked less than an acre. Not a good place for John Deere.

Almost everywhere you look; you see construction with large cranes of ten in a cluster not being extraordinary. The economy is growing at 4per cent per year, driven by electronics, auto and steel manufacturing. South Korea has no traditional natural resources such as oil, arable land, minerals, etc. Its main natural resource in our opinion is its people, motivated with an extreme work ethic. The normal work week is six days for business and schools.

South Korean Swine Industry

  • There are approximately 900,000 sows in South Korea.
  • Korean producers were receiving $1.20 US per lb liveweight for hogs last week.
  • Almost all grain is imported for feed. Cost of feed is approximately 40 per cent higher than the US. Feed is supplied by large feed companies that have the scale and facilities to import the feedstuffs. Cargill, which owns Purina, in Korea is the largest compounder of feed. The Korean entity Easy-Bio is second largest.
  • Cost of production for swine ranges from 70¢ to 85¢ US liveweight per lb.
  • Good Korean producers are making a profit of $100 per head at this time.
  • There are few, new sow farms being built in South Korea, as the government is not supporting expansion due to environmental concerns.
  • Hog farms consist of the land to hold the buildings with little arable land around buildings.
  • Pork is eaten fresh, cooked in a barbeque type preparation. There appears to be little pork processed, other than ham. Bellies have the highest value in the carcass, with the fat of the belly being enjoyed by the consumer.
  • Korean producers are concerned about the possible ratification of a free trade agreement with the US. Obviously, pork is quite a bit cheaper in the US. Unfettered pork importation would be the Korean producers’ worst nightmare. The Korean market is fresh pork driven, so their one salvation could be the cost and/or time to get fresh pork delivered from the US.
  • Korean pork producers, like in other countries with a booming economy, are having a hard time getting workers for their farms. Viet Nam and the Philippines appear to be the major source of labour. At a 600 sow farm that we visited, the manager was making $45,000 US a year while the other personnel made $25,000 US.
  • Disease is a big problem. We were told that there are three PRRS free herds in Korea and the country is having big circo-virus issues. A large number of pigs die before they get to market with national production about 15 market hogs per sow per year. There is variation in production, like everywhere, with one Genesus customer we visited with results of almost 25 pigs weaned per sow per year and relatively low mortality wean to market.
  • The Korean government has given preference to registered purebred pigs for breeding and importation. There is an 18 per cent tariff on imported, non-purebred breeding stock. Purebred genetic programs dominate the marketplace.
  • Breeding stock is expensive in Korea with a Genesus Genetic multiplier sold out while receiving $500 US for 200 lb F-1 gilts. Semen from AI centres is similar to the US at $6.00 to $6.25 per dose.

Gumbo Farm

The major reason we visited Korea last week was to attend the grand opening of a new G.G.P. farm called Gumbo. Genesus supplied all Landrace and Yorkshire registered purebreds for this 400 sow unit. The facility, built up on a mountain, was established to multiply PRRS free G.G.P. stock for the Gumbo group. The buildings cost approximately $5,000 US per sow. There is no land other than the building area. The equipment, ventilation and building design is similar to the US, other than it is farrow to finish on one site and the scale of the farm.

It is one of the few new barns built in Korea this year. Approximately 200 producers attended the formal opening which included speeches, ribbon cutting and party. The farm is still empty of swine, with them currently in official quarantine. As we have seen with producers throughout the world, the hospitality was warm and we much enjoyed our visit. As we write this commentary, we are on a plane over the Pacific. We have heard nothing about the swine market at home over the last few days. Navigating the internet in the Korean language on a hotel computer realizes your limitations. This week, we will be at the World Pork Expo and plan on reporting next week our observations. Hope to see you there.

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