News and analysis on the global poultry
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on May 27, 2010

Decline in global sow numbers continues

Shortages of supply could build pressure on prices, but there are markets where sow numbers are up.

Important recent changes in the sow inventories of the larger pork-producing countries are revealed by the global database maintained exclusively by Pig International. They pinpoint 2009 as a year when the number of sows in each country either decreased or showed very little growth. In the few cases where a more substantial year-on-increase did occur, it was more to recover from a previous downturn than to indicate a significant expansion of the market.

For this year’s analysis of the signs from the database, we have also used the figures from the leading countries to examine the trend in the size of sow breeding herds since the start of the decade according to the region of the world in which they are located. The results of this are shown in the accompanying Figure 1.

Its trend-lines illustrate the complete contrast that exists between the regional trend in the Asia-Pacific area and that for the other regions represented. While Asia’s sow numbers for its largest production countries were 31% more in 2009 than in 2000, the equivalent comparison elsewhere found reductions – from 1.3% in Latin America and 2.4% in Europe to 6.1% in North America, although this last result depended almost entirely on the cutback that has been taking place in Canada.

Table 1 sets out the numbers of animals behind these percentages. Even within regions, it demonstrates, there are contrasts and inconsistencies. Europe gives an example. European Union member states generally lost sows last year and this was particularly true for those in the centre/east of Europe, but it was counterbalanced by another year of expansion in Russia. The apparent Latin American trend for sow numbers was influenced heavily by a reduction in Brazil. Among the Asia-Pacific countries there were more sows in China and Vietnam, but fewer in Korea and Taiwan and Australia.

Note that our Table continues to list the European Union members individually in order to highlight their relative size. For the record, the combined total of sows in all EU-27 states amounted to 15.12 million in the year 2000 before growing to approximately 15.6 million in both 2003 and 2006. Afterwards came successive reductions for EU herds, down to less than 15 million sows in 2007 and then under 14 million in 2008. The total proposed officially for 2009 was just 13.824 million.

Even with the continued improvements being made in the average number of pigs sold per sow/year, inevitably there have been signals in 2010 of a relative shortage of slaughter pigs on the European market. It has yet to be echoed fully in other places, although this year’s price levels in the US have shown the effects of reduced supplies from fewer sows.

It does seem from Table 1 that the number of sows for the 30 largest national herds worldwide hardly changed last year. As always, however, the figures underline that there were individual exceptions to the general trend. Notable among them was the further cut in the size of Canada’s pig breeding herd so that the Canadian entry on our list has dropped from ninth place to eleventh. But the most influential change has to be the reduction indicated for China, losing one million sows in one year.

Remember that China was supposedly still in a re-building phase after suffering a loss of about two million sows from the national total in 2006. Chinese government policies have been promoting further increases, but a combination of disease and moderate prices evidently prompted a sharp fall in China’s sow numbers in 2009.

As we have noted in previous market reviews, keep your eyes also on the growth countries of the world. In terms of the sow count the ones to watch have to be Vietnam and Russia, as we pointed out last year. Russian sow numbers increased by more than 4% during 2008, and by 3% in 2009. Vietnam’s rose by over 1% two years ago and by another 1.5-2.0% last year.

The governments of both countries continue to encourage expansion. In Russia, the target set for producers is to make the country self-sufficient in pork within three years. Vietnam wants to see 75% growth in its on-farm pig numbers by 2020.

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