The UK pig supply chain is facing a major shortage of pork, as worrying new figures on the decline in the national pig herd suggest.
Herd data from Agrovision, shared with the NPA and Pig World, shows steep declines in the number of herds and sows, services and weanings going through the system over the past year, which are accelerating . While the backlog has masked the situation so far, the latest figures indicating a growing shortage of slaughter pigs are coming in the fall, with an industry leader estimating production could be down 250,000 pigs a month.
The Agrovision data reinforces trends outlined in AHDB’s latest hog outlook, which forecasts a 6% drop in hog production this year, followed by a 9% drop in 2023, due to a reduction in 40,000 sows in the sow herd, while suggesting the declines could be even bigger.
Agrovision collects data, anonymously, from a large proportion of the UK pig herd, much of it intended for a sample representing around 60% of the UK pig herd, which provides a credible overview of industry trends.
The latest June figures show a continued decline from previously released data for April:
Herds: The number of herds in the sample fell from 239 in June 2021 to 199 in June 2022, a 17% year-on-year drop, after a steady decline since September.
Sows: The number of sows registered in the sample fell by 27,000 over the year to 154,600, down 15%, with a further drop of 7,500 since April. This will reflect both herds going bankrupt and producers downsizing.
Services: It’s an even more dramatic picture with registered services, which are down 24%, from nearly 38,000 in June 2021 to just under 29,000. month paints a clearer picture, showing an annual decline of 21%.
Weaned pigs: The decline in the breeding herd is felt in the number of weaned pigs. June’s figure of 400,000 was only 19,500 down from a year ago, but after much lower April and May figures, the three-month moving average of 357,000 was down. down 13.5% year-on-year. However, the most striking figures are forecasts for July and August, estimating that the number of weaners will drop to around 300,000 over the summer.
Agrovision says the numbers are representative of broader industry trends, rather than a decline in check-ins among its customers.
Industry consultant Dominic Charman, who works with the company, said the numbers are “starting to merge now and show a clear and worrying trend”.
“When analyzing the number of pigs in several production systems on a monthly basis, there are often ups and downs. However, once we take that impact out, some things really stand out in the numbers,” he said.
“The sow herd is clearly down. Finisher hog production, looking at the actual number of hogs weaned, could have dropped to as low as 250,000 per month, or about the entire throughput of two to three large hog slaughterhouses.
He warned that as growers continue to suffer heavy losses, despite rising prices, the situation could get even worse. “Producers I spoke with a few months ago about their herd reduction are looking again and considering a full exit, which will only worsen the drop in production. Make no mistake, we are facing a real shortage of UK pork,” he said.
As more and more anecdotal reports point to well-known industry figures leaving production, NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson described the numbers as “deeply concerning, but not surprising”, given the huge losses that many producers have suffered over an extended period of time.
“We are already looking at a huge hole in our production base, and as prices have risen, we need more support from across the supply chain to avoid a total collapse of our industry,” he said. she stated.