The fourth quarter of 2002 will see a lot of hogs go to slaughter. In fact, there may be enough hogs heading for slaughter at that time to squeeze kill capacity and cause prices to drop to $10 or below.

When experts try to figure the future number of hogs heading to market, they generally come to one conclusion — total volume will threaten kill capacity. Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri ag economist, says that producers’ gains in productivity will make all the difference.

“The big question is whether we will get another decline in the productivity growth,” says Grimes. “The March Hogs and Pigs Report showed a 3 percent increase in productivity in the year ending March 1, 2001, as opposed to a 5 percent increase the previous year.”

If sow productivity growth continues to run at 3 percent, it will translate to about 102 million hogs marketed in 2002. That will be on the borderline of slaughter capacity, depending on how evenly the hogs are distributed throughout the year.

In 1999, U.S. slaughter equaled 101.5 million hogs, but only 26.7 million came in the fourth quarter. That compares to 27.6 million hogs killed in the fourth quarter of 1998, which caused the price collapse.

If, however, the industry sees a 5 percent increase in sow productivity through this year, and into next, 104 million hogs would head for slaughter in 2002. That number exceeds any definition of slaughter capacity, and would surely drive prices down to disastrous levels once again.