One of the surprising numbers in USDA’s June Hogs & Pigs Report was found in the pigs per litter category for the second quarter. While pork producers saved 0.6 percent more pigs per litter, previous trends had that number near 1.5 percent and beyond.

To be clear, the pigs-per-litter number for the second quarter was reported at 10.09 pigs—that’s a record number period, and a record for the quarter, points out Chris Hurt, Purdue University agricultural economist. That’s also a 1.7 percent increase from the pigs-per-litter level reported in the first quarter of the year. So, the productivity trend continues, just not at the blazing pace of 1.5 percent to 2 percent per quarter that has been occurring for more than 4 years.  

“The longer you go on these productivity gains, the harder it is to continue to increase,” says Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics. “I think the productivity trend will continue; we have not maxed out the productivity capacity of our sows.”

Exactly why the litter numbers softened a bit is not clear cut. There shouldn’t be any weather impact showing up in the June report. However, last winter did see severe and widespread rash of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) outbreaks. In any given year, PRRS is often cited as having an impact on actual numbers, but it rarely adds up. Still, this year really could be different.

“The operations that we work with continue to see very good productivity gains, if not bitten by PRRS,” says Joe Kerns, International Agri Business Group, Ames, Iowa. “I do think there is a lingering-PRRS impact in the June pigs per litter number.” He cites a 4 percent or greater gain year-over-year is not uncommon in a PRRS-stable sow herd.

Kerns expects to see the September pig crop report reflect a continuation of a stronger litter productivity trend.