Whether it’s 60 F, 70 F or 80 F where you’re at it has been a wonderful stretch of warm, sunny spring-like days, and there’s more in store next week. It sure is hard to remember that it’s still winter. Yep, folks step a bit lighter, smile a bit more and naturally become more optimistic.
With Daylights Savings Time underway and early season flowers not just poking through the ground but actually blooming, ag folks are in a bright mood. Thoughts of a new crop will do that to a person. Everyone is getting antsy to head into the fields, but there are many days and even weeks—depending where you are-- before you reach your frost-free date. Remember, April can be a nasty month weather-wise. But if this weather holds, even for another week or two, farmers can get out and complete their pre-plant tasks.
Unless April clouds open up with a relentless deluge, flooding won’t be an issue this year. The lack of snow stretched into the mountains and across wide swaths of the United States and Canada. No, the concern this year could be an expanding drought.
There’s also the potential payback for a mild winter in the form of increased insect and weed pressures for this year’s crops. While there’s talk about a lot more corn to be planted—and we need it-- there’s also more talk about corn-on-corn plantings, which never reaps the same rewards as rotational strategies.
For pork producers, this has been some good pig growing weather— actually that’s been the case all winter, as is evident by the continuous heavy market weights. Provided you’ve gotten out to adjust your ventilation system for these unseasonable temperatures, your pigs should be eating and growing well.
In some recent travels, I’ve found producers, veterinarians and industry participants to be mostly positive about the coming months. Depending on the producer’s breakeven and risk management strategies, profits look to be $5 to more than $10 per hog. Not quite the pace of last year, but not bad.
U.S. pork exports so far have picked up where a record 2011 left off. January exports jumped 28 percent in volume and 43 percent in value, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The South Korea/U.S. Free-trade Agreement (aka. KORUS) finally went into effect on Thursday—not without opposition and only five+ years in the making, but that market holds good potential for U.S. pork sales. Last year, South Korea ranked as our No. 5 customer. As the tariffs lift over the next several years, so will our pork shipments there.
The U.S. dollar has strengthened a bit, and that’s worth watching because, while the world is hungry for pork, there is a price limit.
Finishing barns are being built, to what degree it’s hard to say because you don’t know if the ones you’re hearing about are new to the list or repeats of others that you’ve heard about before or if they’re “on the books” but not really committed to begin.
We will raise more hogs this year— about 2 percent more than the 110.9 million slaughtered last year. Packer capacity will be tested this fall if we reach beyond that point. The real concern is 2013, and whether more sows will enter production. The consensus from those who produce the hogs seems to be that there will be more sows a year from now. Consensus from the lender side of the equation is to continue to be cautious. USDA’s next Hogs & Pigs Report later this month will provide a bit more insight, but it may still not pick up the long-term sow trend.
Having attended the American Association of Swine Veterinarians’ annual meeting this week, only further confirms the intensity, brainpower and commitment from which the pork industry benefits. While herd health topics like biosecurity, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza virus, porcine circovirus 2 and much more are always part of the agenda, other topics filled in this year’s list.
Societal-based issues such as animal well-being, antibiotic use and resistance, export market challenges and crisis management all where part of the multi-day schedule; as was the changing state of swine diets and nutrition. As always, the veterinarians remained grounded in science yet focused on farm implementation. I’ve said it before—if consumers had even a small inkling of the level of thoroughness that goes into pork production and finding ways to improve that practice they would be in dumbfounded.
For me, those four very intense days always reconfirm that some of agriculture’s best minds are at work for the pork industry, and that’s another bright spot.
Yes, the spring-like warm, sunny days this time of year are a gift—enjoy them and the optimism they bring. Now, be sure to check the pigs’ ventilation, cooling system and water lines as these temps aren’t typical and you don’t want them working against you or your pigs.