Among the many events taking place in and around this year's Expoaviga show in Barcelona, Spain, were presentations relating to the Spanish pig sector. They provided a number of insights, not least by suggesting that Spain's long-running expansion of sow numbers has probably ended.

As the graph (Figure 1: Sow numbers in Spain, 1990-2005) confirms, the inventory of breeding sows in Spain rose quickly from less than 2 million at the start of the 1990's until it finished the decade between 2.4-2.5 million. It now seems that the peak was reached in 2004 when the December census that year recorded almost 2.61 million sows, even if unofficial data from Spanish organisation Anprogapor cited 2.85 million for sow numbers in 2002. At the end of 2005 there was already sign of a small cutback. The early prognosis for December 2006 again indicates a total sow complement of under 2.6 million.

The word from the Spanish pig industry insiders attending Expoaviga was that the outlook until 2010 should envisage a basically flat level of national pork production each year. Producers pointed to the country's 116% rate of self-sufficiency in pigmeat, the ever-tougher battle to win planning permission for a new or expanded unit and the ever-present arguments over pollution. Perhaps more important still as an influence for the coming trend, they commented, is the mediocre profitability suffered by pig production in Spain over the past 3-4 years. It looks likely to stimulate a further round of consolidation, not only among the big and medium-sized players.

Anyone with fewer than 500 sows is already regarded as having too small a herd to sustain an income as a family concern. The minimum size for survival is rising rapidly. Again quoting those attending the show in Barcelona, in 5 years from now we can expect that any independent producer who is not integrated will have at least 1000 sows unless allied to a co-operative or involved in a specialist activity such as producing seedstock.

Scale in Spain is illustrated most clearly by the show-time estimates of the biggest pig producing enterprises nationwide. Vall Companys from Cataluna is still put at the top of the list, with an estimated 160 000 sows. Next in line is Proinserga from Segovia with 90 000 sows, although the organisation has admitted suffering financial losses since buying the Primayor pork production operations of Spanish food group Campofrio in 2004. At Number 3 the sources proposed the name of father-and-son company Jimenez from Murcia (45 000 sows). Piensos Baucells takes fourth spot with the 50 000 sows it controls directly or indirectly. A holding of about 35 000 sows is attributed to Catalan feed manufacturer Piensos Leridiana and also to provincial co-operative Guissona.

A problem of rankings then arises because so many concerns in Spain are reckoned to be in the 30 000-40 000 sows category. Several visitors suggested it would be easier to state the biggest producers in each Spanish province. Cataluña's largest would be obvious as Vall Companys, Baucells, Leridiana and Guissona. Segovia's line-up is also clear, with the pair of enterprises Proinserga and Copiso. Navarra has Uvesa, Terrafeta and Dos Hermanas. Galicia's biggest is undoubtedly Coren (30 000 sows). In Valencia there is Agroturia. Murcia has Juan Jimenez, the Cefusa operation of food giant El Pozo and Frandi. More names compete for attention in Aragon, ranging from Piensos Costa (30 000 sows) to Isidro Martin, Seral, Samper and Codornices del Cinca.