Additional cuts needed in U.S. hog herd

by Bryan Salvage
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DES MOINES — Market analysts say further reduction of the U.S. hog herd is needed. Producers’ efforts to cut back on sow numbers are being offset by an increase in productivity and litter sizes, according to the National Pork Board. From March to May, the average number of pigs saved per litter reached a record high 9.61, compared to 9.38 last year, according to the latest U.S.D.A. Hogs and Pigs Report.

"We are cutting back, but it’s at an awfully slow rate," said Ron Plain, a University of Missouri professor of agricultural economics who participated in the Pork Checkoff’s recent agriculture media teleconference to discuss the report. "I think it will take a 10% reduction in the sow herd to make a difference."

On June 1, the U.S. inventory of all hogs and pigs was 66.1 million head, down 2% from June 1, 2008, but up 1% from March 1. The breeding inventory, at 5.97 million head, was down 3% from last year and down slightly from the previous quarter.

Totaling 60.1 million head, the market hog inventory was down 2% from last year but up 1% from last quarter. The March-May 2009 pig crop, at 28.5 million head, was down slightly from 2008 but up 2% from 2007.

U.S. hog producers intend to have 2.97 million sows farrow during the June-August 2009 quarter, down 3% from the actual farrowings during the same period in 2008 and down 5% from 2007.

The bad news is the U.S. pork industry has struggled with red ink for 18 of the last 20 months, largely due to high feed costs. The good news is the market may be bottoming now from the hit it took this spring from the H1N1 virus scare in April and May, says Bob Brown, an independent market analyst from Edmond, Okla.

"It appears that the flu scare damaged domestic and export demand," he said. "However, when you look back to December of 2003 when the first mad cow case occurred in the U.S., the market rebounded two months later to the point where it was before the mad cow case was announced."

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