Farmgate pig prices have returned to a traditional seasonal pattern in 2017, following considerable volatility in recent years.
According to data from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), since reaching its 2017 peak of 165p/kg dwt in the final week of July, the GB Standard Pig Price (SPP) has fallen in ten out of eleven weeks, slipping to 158p/kg in the second week of October.
Iain Macdonald, QMS Senior Economics Analyst, said that over this period prices decreased by 4% and were at their lowest since the opening week of May. However, the market still cleared 9% higher than in the same week of 2016.
“A look at the weekly price reports indicates that the market has responded to a seasonal change in supplies. Indeed, the number of pigs processed by abattoirs that report into the SPP rose by 5% between the end of July and mid-October,” said Mr Macdonald.
Furthermore, carcase weights rose by 2.5%, he said, meaning that pigmeat production increased by 7.5%. As well as increasing seasonally, carcase weights have remained well above 2016 levels. Consequently, the 9% annual increase in per kilo producer prices was 12.5% on a per carcase basis.
“When considering the market conditions faced by pig producers it is important to look at the cost of inputs as well as the price they receive for their outputs,” observed Mr Macdonald.
“Feed is the principal input cost involved in pig production and the price of feed wheat and feed barley in north-east Scotland has been unusually stable for most of 2017, trading at around £140/t for the former and £115-£120/t for the latter.”
Last year, the cost of grain fluctuated more and although it was around 7% lower in mid-October 2016, prices were on the increase through the second half of 2016, meaning that the year-on-year increase has narrowed in recent weeks from above 20%.
For soyameal, worries over a delay to the soyabean harvest, plus below expected yields in the US have seen global prices pick up by 3% since September but, said Mr Macdonald, at £305 per tonne, imported Brazilian soyameal was still 8% cheaper than a year earlier.
“Overall then, the combination of firm farmgate prices and relatively stable feed costs have given pig producers favourable market conditions.
“In turn, this confidence has resulted in some herd expansion in Scotland with the June census in Scotland reporting a 3.5% increase in sow numbers to a six-year high of 32,000 head,” he said.
However, gilt retentions for future breeding contracted by 10% and the number of fattening pigs on Scottish farms fell by 2%. This fall in fattening pigs could suggest an increase in sales of weaner pigs to English farms, said Mr Macdonald.
South of the border, the sow herd stabilised, while gilt numbers rose by 3% and fattening pigs by 1.5%. In Northern Ireland, all three categories showed significant increases - 3% for sows, 11% for gilts and 8% for fattening pigs.
“Meanwhile, on the continent, prices have taken a seasonal downturn, sliding by 8-12% across the major producing nations between early September and the first week of October, taking the market below 2016 levels,” stated Mr Macdonald.
“Nevertheless, the EU Commission estimates that the average pig finisher made a €66 (£59) margin over the cost of feed and weaners during September, down slightly on September 2016’s €68, but higher than €61 two years ago.”
As well as the same seasonal factors pressuring UK pig prices, a slowdown in exports to China following rapid growth in 2016 has taken some of the heat out of the EU pig market in recent months, he observed.
“A sharp drop in volumes sold to China has more than offset increased activity in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the USA. Given that EU slaughterings are forecast to have remained lower than in 2016 this autumn, having fallen by 2% in the first seven months of 2017, it appears this fall in overseas demand has been key,” said Mr Macdonald.
Looking forward, EU pig production is expected to return to growth next year and rise by one percent. This reflects herd expansion across most of the main pig-producing nations that reported a population in June. The combined sow herd in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Holland and Poland rose by 1.6%.