U.S. pork exports have been the bright spot for the industry as record numbers of market hogs have moved to slaughter this year. Record-setting exports have kept prices from tumbling.
The August export numbers won't be final until October, but there are signs that a slow-down is underway. As a matter of fact, Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist, points to exports a driver in the large pork cutout value declines that have surfaced during the past three weeks.
"The only explanation we can see for why we took such a hit is a slow-down in exports," he says.
Looking ahead, the fourth quarter is expected to increase hog slaughter by 2.5 percent from last year's levels. In 2007, a record 30.4 million hogs were slaughtered in the last quarter.
While this year's late-year numbers will test packer capacity, the industry should have enough to "squeak by this fall and early winter without real problems," says Plain and his colleague Glenn Grimes. Of course, if there's a hiccup at a slaughter plant for some reason, then the scenario changes dramatically.
U.S. hog slaughter has already set a new record this month, topping 2.3 million head for a September week, according to USDA.