The inventory of pigs weighing 60-179 pounds was unchanged from December 2001 and December-February farrowings are expected to be only 1 percent smaller than 2002, according to USDA’s December Hogs and Pigs report.

That’s disappointing news, because it will mean hog slaughter during the first half of 2003 should be within 1 percent of 2002 and prices could struggle to make it to the high $40s on a live weight basis, say Glenn Grimes and Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economists.

The second half of 2003 looks more positive, say the economists. Both the December 1 breeding herd and March- May farrowing intentions were 3 percent smaller than year-earlier levels. This should hold fourth quarter 2003 live hog prices in the upper $30 range, say Grimes and Plain.

Grimes and Plain project 2003 prices will average $35-$38 per hundredweight live weight, or $37- $40 per hundredweight on a 51-52 lean hog basis. It appears that while the price disaster was avoided in the fourth quarter of 2002, a dramatic price recovery spike will also not be seen, at least in 2003.