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Highest December pig numbers for 12 years recorded in England

9th Mar 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The number of pigs in England at the end of 2019 reached the highest level in 12 years, according to the latest Defra survey figures. 

As of December 1 2019, the English pig herd totalled 3.78 million head, which is around 3% higher than December 2018 and is the largest December pig herd since 2007.

Dec 19 pig censusAHDB analyst Felicity Rusk said that while the pig census results should always be viewed with caution, as trends are not always reflected in slaughter levels, they do suggest pig numbers have been growing.

“England plg slaughter levels across December and January were 6% higher than year-earlier levels. However, our weekly slaughter estimates suggest the pace of growth has dropped back since then," she said.

However, he number of female pigs in the breeding herd was down 1% on the previous year, driven by an unusually large decline of 12% in the number of suckling and dry sows.

There has been expansion in the UK breeding herd overall, particularly in Scotland, the latest data suggests. 

Ms Rusk added said: “A sharp rise in the production of breeding pig feed also points to herd expansion. In the census, in-pig sows, in-pig gilts and maiden gilts did all record an increase in numbers compared to the previous year.

“The better financial positions of producers would be expected to allow expansion in some areas."

But domestic demand falling 

The latest retail data from Kantar shows that domestic pig meat being purchases fell by 4% year-on-year in the 12 weeks to 26 January. Overall spend was up 1% during the period, however, due to higher prices.  

The most worryig decline was was in fresh pork, sales of which were down 10% year-on-year, with processed products, including bacon, ham and sausage, down 4% in volume on 2019, but up in value.

Kantar retail Jan 26

AHDB analyst Bethan Wilkins said the small increase in spend was driven by a 5% increase in average prices, following a reduction in promotional support for both primary pork and bacon.

GB pig prices were 17% higher in January compared to the same period last year, with the price of imported pig meat also up by 17% in December.

Market penetration remained stable in spite of the increased popularity of ‘Veganuary’ in 2020, Ms Wilkins said.

“Though the overall picture was not unreasonable, primary pork continued to suffer. Fewer people bought pork, and the volume per buyer declined. Increased spending on processed pig meat enabled the overall rise. This category still lost a few shoppers though, and volume per buyer fell.

“Overall market penetration was maintained due to some growth from the 'added value' segment, which includes “ready-to-cook” and sous-vide products.”