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EU Pig Supply - how many pigs will be going to market?

EU Pig Supply - how many pigs will be going to market?

The low profitability across the European pig sector in the last 24 months has led to some pig producers deciding to exit the sector through destocking.

In Ireland the national sow herd census in 2021 was estimated at 146,000, and in general had remained very stable over the previous 5 years, despite considerable financial fluctuations. However the historic low profitability in 2022 unfortunately resulted in herds with approximately 13,500 sows beginning the destocking process.

The Teagasc Pig Department estimate that the national sow herd size will be 133,000 in 2023, a drop of 9%. This is similar to the German and Danish decline but much lower then the UK and Poland (18% respectively) annual reduction. The Spanish sow herd is an outlier in Europe as it has remained virtually stable in 2022, down just 1 percent year-on year (YOY).

When one examines the data more closely (Table 1) and looks at the latest six month data (from Dec 2021 to Jun 2022), it illustrates a steep reduction with a decline of 283,000 sows in these selected countries. This is a phenomenal decline but it also implies that the supply of pigmeat on the EU market will continue to decrease.

Table 1: Changes in selected European sow herds

  Dec 21 Jun 22 Change
Country Million head %
Germany 1,602 1,510 -6
Spain 2,712 2,699 -0.5
France 941 917 -3
Denmark 1,245 1,201 -4
Netherlands 918 925 0.8
Poland 665 617 -7
Total 13 MS* 10,092 9,809 -3

Source: Eurostat     * 13 selected member states

It is forecast that over a longer three year period (2021-2023) the reduction in the European sow herd may reach 600,000 sows, due to African Swine Fever and the pressure of poor profitability.

So how has the sow herd decline affected pig supply to-date and what may happen in 2023?

The estimated Irish pig slaughtering’s from 2019 to 2022 are illustrated in Table 2.  The 2022 disposals are estimated to be 3.84 million pigs which is 3.1 percent lower than in 2021, reflecting the first reduction in slaughter numbers since 2018 and a return to 2020 levels.

Table 2: ROI born pigs slaughtered: 2019-2022

Year 2019 2020 2021 2022*
  million head
Slaughter Pigs 3.70 3.83 3.95 3.84

Source: Teagasc Pig Department   ^ Includes. N.Ire. plants  *Est        

However the annual figure hides the decreasing supply in recent months. When the data is examined on a quarterly basis (Table 3) there’s an increasing rate of decline in the latter half of 2022 and this is expected to accelerate in Q1 and Q2 of 2023. The reduced slaughter volume and expected further declines in 2023 has increased the spare kill capacity in the principal pig processing plants.  This reduces one of the sector’s chief risks and gives greater flexibility to the sector in the event of one of the main processing plants being temporary off-line e.g. experiencing breakdowns, refurbishment etc.

Table 3: ROI born^ pig disposals 2022*

  Disposals (hd) % Diff. vs Q1
Q1 998,359 -
Q2 983,336 -1.6
Q3 927,672 -7.2
Q4 928,667 -7.0
Total 3,838,034 -

Source: Teagasc Pig Department   ^ Includes. N.Ire. plants  *Est.

The percentage of Republic of Ireland (ROI) born pigs being exported/slaughtered in Northern Ireland has also declined considerably in recent years. The export numbers have fallen from 20 percent of ROI national production (570,000 pigs) in 2013 to an estimated 10 percent (402,000 pigs) in 2022.

Table 4: Slaughter and Live Export to N. Ireland of ROI Born Pigs from 2012-2022

Year Licensed Export Plants in Ireland Exports to Northern Ireland Exports as % of Total
  million head %
2013 2.829 0.570 20
2014 2.940 0.519 18
2015 3.132 0.514 16
2016 3.221 0.414 13
2017 3.295 0.433 13
2018 3.337 0.463 14
2019 3.273 0.425 12
2020 3.343 0.456 13
2021 3.523 0.429 11
2022* 3.436 0.402 10

Source: DAFM & DARDNI       *estimate

The level of pig slaughtering/disposals in some of the principal pig exporting countries are shown in Table 5. The sow herd declined in Germany before the current economic difficulties due to ASF and therefore their slaughter volumes are already nearing their low ebb whereas the slaughter volumes in most other countries are still reducing. The reduction in German pig slaughtering is estimated at 3.07 million pigs. The Danish industry has also been affected by the low profitability and the difficulties exporting pigs to Germany for finishing and slaughter. It is estimated that the current Danish slaughter throughput is down 9 percent and their October 2022 pig census estimates the finisher population down 11.5 percent year-on-year.

The ‘stand-out’ data point in Table 5 is the stability of the Spanish slaughter numbers despite reduction in most of the other major EU producers. The integrated and cohesive nature of the Spanish pig sector has enabled continued growth in recent years. To illustrate this continuous increase, the Spanish slaughter volume (over 44 weeks) increased from 31.8 million pigs (2016) to 37.9 million pigs (2021), a 6.1 million pigs increase (+19 percent) over a six year period. This rate of expansion is the reason why Spain has now taken over from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, as the ‘powerhouse’ of European pig production. The integrated Spanish production system and collective price bargaining mechanism generates substantial efficiencies for their industry.

Table 5: Selected European & North American Pig Disposals

  2021* 2022* Change
Country Million head %
Germany 34.53 31.46 -8.8
Spain 37.85 37.57 -0.08
France 15.96 15.78 -1.1
U.S. 105.9 103.1 -2.6

 *Based on Jan-Aug
Source: MPB 2022

What is expected in slaughter volumes in 2023?

In Ireland we expect to see our weekly slaughter declining by approximately 6,500 pigs per week (from 76,000 to 69,500) and this reduction will become apparent in the 2nd quarter onwards. Across Europe the decline of 280,000 sows in the Dec 21 –Jun 22 period will be felt in Q1 & Q2 of 2023. If most of this culling was undertaken after the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia war, when feed ingredient prices spiked, then it is presumed Q2 2023 will see a decline in slaughter pigs but the pigmeat shortage will really be felt in the second part of the year. If the Chinese increase their import volumes from the EU in 2023 than this will further tighten pigmeat supply and put upward pressure on pig prices.

After the last 2 years of high financial losses, a sustained period of high pig prices in 2023 and into 2024 will be sorely needed by the sector.