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20-year high for UK pork production in July

18th Aug 2020 / By Alistair Driver

July UK pork production was up 9% year-on-year to reach a 20-year high for the month, according to the latest production statistics from Defra.

The figures show the UK produced 86,200 tonnes of pig meat in July, 7,300 tonnes more than in July last year and the highest production figure in the last 20 years.

A total of 963,700 clean pigs were processed by UK abattoirs in July, up 6% (57,000 head) on the year. Slaughter of sows and boars totalled 23,200 head, up 21% (4,100 head) on the year.

The statistics showed that the rise in production is due to mostly to a rise in clean pig slaughter, while dressed carcase weights were also slightly heavier on the year, AHDB analyst Hannah Clark said.

Improving foodservice demand as lockdown eases may have offered some support to finished pig numbers in July, while the recent reopening of the sow processing plant and a welcome stabilisation in continental sow prices may have supported sow throughput, she added.

However, Ms Clark stressed that Defra’s sample size remains lower than usual, and so sow numbers in particular should be treated with caution.

Price dip 

The SPP fell continued to fall during the first week of August, down a hefty 0.84p on the week to average 163.84p/kg. However, following months of steady increases, the price is still 10.83p above the same week last year.

Estimated slaughter at British abattoirs totalled 156,100 head, down 3,300 head on the week, although industry reports suggest the market continues to be well supplied, with some pig reportedly been rolled over due to processing issues, according to AHDB's weekly price update.

Sow prices recovery?

The pandemic has taken its toll in particular on cull sow prices, which have fallen across the EU, with sharp falls in particular seen in recent weeks. EU sow prices have stabilised in recent weeks, but it is still too early to expect any significant uplift in struggling UK sow prices, according to AHDB analyst Bethan Wilkins.

Ms Wilkins said the impact was not surprising, considering the closure of the huge Tönnies pork processing plant in Germany, which is usually a major customer for cull sows. 

EU sow prices

In Germany, the key market for sow meat in the EU, the price for an M1 grade sow had been nearly €1.70/kg in April, but fell to around €1.00/kg by early June, reflecting declining demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In July the disruption to processing capacity led to a further fall in the price, taking it under €0.90/kg, the lowest level on record, going back to 2014.

Prices elsewhere broadly followed the German trend. French and Dutch quotes also fell by over 10% between the start of June and end of July, to stand at €0.86/kg and €0.92/kg respectively, while Danish prices have lost nearly 25% over the past 8 weeks. 

“In Britain, reports indicate that prices have also fallen, with less trade taking place on the back of limited demand. For the four weeks to w/e July 11, GB estimated sow slaughter was nearly 20% lower than last year, though it seems numbers have since largely recovered,” Ms Wilkins added.

But the re-opening of the Tönnies facility has now eased some of the market pressure and EU sow prices have been more stable in the past couple of weeks, even posting a slight uplift in Germany.

“Chinese importers are reportedly also ordering large quantities of pork, while hot weather on the continent is slowing pig growth rates and boosting demand for barbecue items,” Ms Wilkins added.

“While these signs are optimistic, Germany is still reporting that finished pig supplies are ahead of demand levels, so it might be too much to expect a significant uplift feeding through to our sow prices soon.”