WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2013 - The U.S. hog and pig inventory totaled 65.9 million as of Dec. 1, down 1 percent from a year earlier and down 2 percent from three months earlier, the USDA said today in a quarterly report.

About 5.76 million sows were being held back for breeding at the start of the month, down 1 percent from a year earlier and 1 percent from Sept. 1, the USDA said. The decline indicates reluctance among producers to expand herds, despite a dramatic drop in corn prices and a resulting decline in feed costs.

Ron Plain, a University of Missouri agricultural economist, attributed the drop to Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED), an animal disease that was first confirmed in U.S. swine herds in May and has since spread to at least 20 states.

“PED is off-setting herd expansion and productivity growth,” Plain wrote in an internet preview of today’s report

The number of pigs per litter during the quarter averaged a record 10.16, up from 10.15 in the year-earlier quarter.

PED is a viral disease that causes extreme gastrointestinal distress. The virus does not affect humans or other species, but can prove fatal to pigs, especially piglets and sows. The highest incidence of PED has been in top hog-producers Iowa and North Carolina. There is no treatment for the disease, so the emphasis is on prevention and control.

A smaller herd may point to higher retail pork prices, which in November averaged $3.776 a pound, up almost 30 cents from a year earlier, according to Plain and Scott Brown, another University of Missouri agriculture economist. November was the third-highest month ever for pork at the grocery store, only trailing the previous two months.


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