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Updated Agrovision data reinforces concerns over decline in UK pork production

3rd Aug 2022 / By Alistair Driver

Worrying new data suggests the UK pig supply chain is facing a significant shortage of pork, as herd and sow numbers plummet, following 18 months of crisis for the pig sector. 

Pigs 2021Herd data from Agrovision, shared with the NPA, show big falls in herd and sow numbers, services and weaners coming through the system over the past year, which are accelerating. While the backlog has masked the situation until now, the latest figures pointing to a growing dearth of pigs for slaughter come the autumn, with one leading industry estimating production could be down by 250,000 pigs per month.

The Agrovision data reinforces the trends outlined in AHDB's latest pork outlook which forecasts a 6% decline in pig production this year, followed by a further 9% reduction in 2023, on the back of a 40,000-sow reduction in the sow herd. But it suggests the declines could be even greater.

Agrovision collects data, anonymously, from a big proportion of the UK pig herd, much of which goes into a sample representing about 60% of the GB herd, which provides a credible overview of industry trends.

The latest figures for June show continuing declines on previously released data for April:

Herds: The number of herds in the sample has fallen from 239 in June 2021 to 199 in June 2022, a 17% year-on-year drop, following a steady decline since September.

Sows: The number of sows recorded in the sample fell by 27,000 over the course of the year to 154,600, a 15% drop, with a further decline of 7,500 since April. This will reflect both herds going out of business and producers paring back numbers.

Services: It is an even more dramatic picture with services recorded, which are down 24% from nearly 38,000 in June 2021 to just short of 29,000. While the monthly figures vary, the three-month rolling average paints a clearer picture, showing a 21% annual decline.

Weaned pigs: The breeding herd decline is showing through in pig numbers weaned. The June figure of 400,000, was only 19,500 down on a year ago, but after much lower April and May figures, the three-month rolling average, 357,000, was 13.5% down year-on-year. However, the starkest figures are forecasts for July and August, estimating that weaned numbers will plummet to around the 300,000-mark over the summer.

Worrying trend

Agrovision maintains that the figures are representative of wider industry trends, rather than any downturn in recording among its clients.

Industry consultant Dominic Charman, who works with the company, said the figures are ‘starting to coalesce now and are showing a clear and worrying trend’.

“When analysing pig numbers monthly across multiple production systems often there is some ebb and flow. However, once we take that impact out some things really stand out in the numbers," he said.

“The sow herd is clearly falling. The output of finishing pigs, by looking at real numbers weaned, could have fallen by as much as 250,000 per month, which is approximately the entire throughput of two to three large pig abattoirs.”

He warned that, as producers continue to suffer heavy losses, despite rising prices, the situation could get worse still. “Producers who I was discussing reducing their herds with a few months ago are now looking again and considering a complete exit, which will only drive the drop in production ever harder. Make no mistake, we are facing a real shortage of British Pork,” he said.

As more anecdotal reports come through of well-known industry figures quitting production, NPA general manager Lizzie Wilson described the figures as ‘deeply concerning, but not surprising’, given the huge losses many producers have endured over a prolonged period.

“We are already looking at a huge hole in our production base, and while prices have been going up, we need to see more support from across the supply chain to prevent the total collapse of our industry,” she said.