Before you decide to make plans for expanding your herd, be sure you will have somewhere to take hogs at market time. Capacity at U.S. pork packing plants may get tighter with productivity and slaughter weights constantly creeping higher.

For many years now, pork producers have been increasing sow productivity with significant gains in average litter size, number of pigs weaned as well as pigs/sow/year. Even without expanding the swine herd, pork producers may run into a bottleneck in capacity at packing plants by the fall of 2013.

“Productivity is the driver of increased supplies at this time, especially on pigs per litter and carcass weights,” said Steve Meyer, president, Paragon Economics. "Litter sizes are growing at a rate of around 2 percent per year and I think that trend will continue."

Packing plant capacity was pushed to the limit during a few weeks in 2011 and may again push the limit during the fall of 2012, according to Meyer. Slaughter capacity may become a limiting factor for pork production by the fall of 2013, Meyer said.

Currently, the economist estimates there is capacity for about 2.3 million head per week. Meyer said he does not expect more capacity than the current level to come available by the fall of 2013. “If we grow hog numbers too much, packer capacity could get very tight.”

Meyer said that even if construction began on a new packing plant immediately it likely would not be operational until 2014.