North American pig producers are certainly not immune to the hardships that have been affecting the industry in other parts of the world for some time now and that look set to continue through the rest of 2011.

Statistics published by the US Department of Agriculture towards the end of 2010 revealed that the US pig herd was still in a worrying “phase of contraction”, although it predicted that this phase did appear to be slowing.

There are now fewer producers, although they are larger, and they now rely more on contracting for both swine production and marketing.

However, intended farrowings for December 2010 to February 2011 were up at 2.89 million sows and the USDA felt that, if producers followed through with these intentions, the industry could see its the first year-on-year farrowing increase since the spring of 2008 and see evidence of a possible turnaround from liquidation to expansion.

More challenges ahead  

But international observers such as the British Pig Executive analyst James Park have warned that, in a high feed cost environment and after a period of negative returns that had lasted for more than two years, US pig producers would still be facing severe challenges in the months ahead.

“It’s never easy to predict what is going to happen in the medium to long-term future and I am afraid there is no sign of feed prices falling yet so, like pig farmers here in the European Union, where the total breeding herd fell by nearly 3% last year based on census returns from 17 member countries, US producers could still see hard times for a few months yet,” he said.

Taking action  

It seems, however, that Americans are not prepared to sit down and watch their industry decline, and many have already started to fight back with measures to improve production and traceability, as well as campaigns to persuade consumers to “fall in love” with pork again.

Details of the National Pork Board’s latest marketing campaign were discussed by the board at its meeting early last year. The campaign has been designed to achieve a 10% increase in real per capita domestic consumer expenditures for pork by 2014, compared with their spend on the meat in 2009.

This is the culmination of a year-long examination of all our marketing efforts to give us as pork producers the best chance to get our consumers to fall in love with pork all over again,” said North Carolina vet and president of the pork board, Gene Nemechek.

Following along the lines of a similar exercise by Britain’s National Pig Association in London, where UK pig producers held a rally in front of the Houses of Parliament to drive home their message that “Pigs are Still Worth It,” the US National Pork Board’s strategic plan will focus on:

  • Refreshing and repositioning pork’s image to increase domestic and international consumer demand;
  • Pursuing strategies to enable US pork producers to remain competitive globally; and
  • Protecting the rights and ability of US farmers to produce pork in a socially responsible and cost-competitive manner.

Canadian herd shrinking  

The picture doesn’t look much brighter for pig producers in Canada, where the October 2010 pig census revealed that their national pig herd was still shrinking, although at a slower rate than the year before.

The census also revealed a declining trend in the sow herd, which statisticians believe practically rules out any chance of recovery in 2011. The increasing feed costs and continued uncertainty surrounding live pig exports are likely to worsen the situation even further, with slaughterings expected to see a further 2% decline in 2011.

However, with production forecast to decline by 1% this year and a higher demand likely for exports, tight market supplies are expected to keep prices as relatively higher levels during the first quarter of 2011, with some rebuilding on the back of stronger demand possible in 2012.

Traceability   

And showing its confidence in the industry, the Canadian government stepped in with a $3.7 million package in February this year to support the industry and help the Canadian Pork Council strengthen its national swine traceability system.

The council’s system, PigTrace Canada, has been designed to track the movement of hogs across the country. Phase I funding was for development of PigTrace Canada, including software development and system set up associated with the allocation of approved ear tags, as well as administrative and customer service support. Phase II funding of $3.7 million is intended for the implementation of PigTrace Canada. The education of Canadian producers and other system users is the key component to ensuring the movment reporting, as will be required by federal law, is as simple and straightforward as possible.

“There is no doubt that a strong traceability system benefits Canadian producers, the value chain and consumers,” said agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.

He claimed that the government’s investment in hog traceability would “pay dividends to the entire value chain in Ontario and across Canada for generations to come”.

It is hoped that the scheme will give Canada a competitive edge when working to access the new markets it needs to obtain while, at the same time, using it as a marketing tool to help producers get a better return for their high quality products.

In addition, a national database could prove to be invaluable in the event of a national outbreak of disease by allowing it to quickly identify which farms the affected hogs come from and which other animals they may have come into contact with, to limit both the economic and trade impacts of such emergencies.

Managing risk  

“The Canadian pork industry is working hard towards the implementation of a world-class swine traceability system that serves as a tool in moving the Canadian pork industry forward in today’s global market,” said Canadian Pork Council president Jurgen Preugschas.

“The investment shows the continued support of the government and industry to work towards the mutually beneficial goal of improving disease preparedness.”

The $3.7 million will be delivered through the country’s innovative Growing Forward through the Canadian Integrated Food Safety Initiative, which has been designed to integrate a complementary and mutually reinforcing set of programs.

This integrated delivery by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada seeks to enable various sectors manage risk proactively, and effectively respond to demands from governments and buyers for demonstrable assurances on food safety and bio-security risks.