WASHINGTON, July 2, 2014 – Some pork industry experts are expressing surprise that the latest USDA report on the nation’s hog inventory failed to show signs of herd expansion, despite months of producer profitability.
About 2.797 million sows were farrowed in the quarter ended May 31, down slightly from the same period in 2013 and down from the previous three months, according to the June 27 report.
“Something here really doesn’t make sense,” said Kevin Bost, an agricultural economist and president of Procurement Strategies in Des Plaines, Illinois, during a conference call arranged by the National Pork Board following the report’s release.
Producers have been making good profits for almost a year now, ever since corn prices began to fall late last summer, which normally would prompt herd expansion, he said. But that wasn’t apparent in the USDA’s numbers.
“Why would that happen, when we have extremely good profitability?” he asked, adding that he thought the USDA’s farrowing estimates were “questionable.”
Producers may have been wary about expansion in the face of continuing animal losses caused by the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has killed more than 7 million pigs since being found in U.S. herds last spring. The report put the June inventory of hogs and pigs at 62.1 million head, down 5 percent from a year earlier and down 1 percent the end of the previous quarter. The number is the smallest in more than seven years.
Chris Hurt, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, said there are indications that the mortality rate from the virus may have moderated, as the virus spreads more slowly in warmer weather, but “certainly PEDv isn’t under control yet.”
One positive sign in the report was the number of pigs saved per litter, which in the quarter ended May 31 averaged 9.78, up from 9.53 in the previous three months. Still, the figure was down from 10.31 a year earlier.
The virus, first recognized in the UK in 1971, can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration in pigs. While older animals mostly end up losing weight after infection, piglets often die. PEDv can't be transmitted to humans or other animals, and has no effect on pork quality. The virus can spread rapidly throughout an entire herd of hogs. The most common avenue is on livestock and farm equipment that come into contact with hogs positive with PEDv or their feces.
Dr. Patrick Webb, the Pork Board’s director of swine health programs, said the industry will be closely watching the effects of a vaccine that won conditional approval from USDA last month, the first vaccine licensed for PEDv. “Over time we’ll see what effect it has,” Webb said. “There’s not a whole lot of data on it yet.”
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