Farrowings on a Downward Trend
Each year there are more Americans to feed and more pork exported but not more sows. The number of sows farrowed has declined each year since 2007. Farrowings were down for 13 consecutive quarters from 2008 to 2011. Litters farrowed were up 0.5 percent in the September-November quarter last year and up 1.2 percent in the December-February quarter.
USDA’s March pig crop survey indicated producers planned to farrow 0.9 percent fewer sows in the spring of 2012 and to reduce farrowings this summer by 1.6 percent compared to a year earlier. USDA is forecasting only 2.88 million litters this summer, the smallest June-August total since 2001.
Fewer Sows, More Pigs
A decline in litters farrowed doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller pig crop. The number of pigs per litter matters, and it has been on the rise. From the summer of 2008 through the summer of 2011, the number of sows farrowed was below year-earlier levels for 13 consecutive quarters. But the pig crop was down for only five of those 13 quarters.
Pigs per litter have exceeded year-earlier levels every quarter since June-August 2003. The year-over-year increase averaged 1.9 percent for 2007 through 2011. Whether producers continue to wean nearly 2 percent more pigs per litter or drop back to the historic growth rate of 1 percent year-over-year will obviously impact both production and price.
A Growing Global Pork Supply
USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service predicts that 2012 world pork production will increase 2.7 percent from 2011. Production growth that exceeds population growth often means lower prices. Worth noting for U.S. pork producers, several important foreign markets are showing rapid growth in hog numbers.
China, the third-largest buyer of U.S. pork in 2011, is expected to increase its pork production 4 percent this year. Pork production in South Korea, U.S. pork’s fifth-ranked customer, is expected to be up 17 percent as it rebounds from disease troubles. Increased foreign production is likely to hurt U.S. pork exports. Last year a record 22.8 percent of U.S. pork production was shipped elsewhere.