Another lockdown, coupled with challenging conditions for processors as a result of Covid-19 are hitting pig producers where it hurts.

The latest Standard Pig Price (SPP) recently suffered it’s largest weekly fall in more than four years, whilst recording an all time high average carcase weight of 90.42kg.

Also further price rises in feed means margins are being tightly squeezed.

Values have been slipping, albeit on a gradual basis, since the end of July, 2020, and last week’s figures saw the SPP EU value fall 1.99p to 144.74p per dw kg, with the SPP UK spec falling 1.95p, at 144.27p.

However, while these prices are more than 17p per kg down on the year and for fewer pigs slaughtered, they remain slightly above the five-year average. Figures for the week ending January 9, show 173,600 were killed, up 38,600 on the short week of the previous seven-day period, but down 8900 on the year.

Carcase weights are also up by almost 4kg on the year at 90.42kg, due to backlogs at processing plants.

“A combination of African swine fever in Germany, which pulled EU prices down, coupled with Covid-19 restrictions, have had a serious impact on prices,” Andy McGowan, chief executive of Scottish Pig Producers, told The Scottish Farmer.

“Processors can’t get the throughputs when they have staff self isolating and social distancing, which adds to backlogs in the chain whereby pigs end up getting too heavy which in turn affects overall prices,” said Mr McGowan.

He added that a two-week closure of the Cranswick processing plant in Northern Ireland last autumn, had serious implications for the trade.

The pig industry is also suffering the loss of the processing food sector as a result of the latest lockdown which can be attributable for up to 20% of all pigmeat sales.

Adult pigs have also been affected, with sows, most of which are exported to Germany, hit by increased paperwork and bureaucracy following the new trade deal with the EU.

Feed prices are more of a concern. Wheat and soya values are both well up on the year. ICE feed wheat futures at £201.22 per tonne are up £2.77 on the week and £54.30 on the year, with Brazilian soya meal at £443, up a massive £137 per tonne on 2020.

Despite this, Mr McGowan remained upbeat. “There is plenty to be positive about. Once numbers begin to tighten as they always do in the spring and more people in the processing sector are vaccinated, prices should improve.

“The problems we are facing are not due to the fall in demand, but the processing plants which can’t run to full capacity because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“The industry has had a good 18 months of improved prices which combined with increased efficiency and productivity in all herds means the sector is in a good place, but it all depends how much higher feed values rise.”

Further afield, while exports to China have been unaffected by the new trade deal with the EU, less rather than more could be needed in years to come as the country rebuilds its herd after African swine fever virtually decimated it.

Official data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows China’s pork output for 2020 recorded only marginal losses, after experiencing a massive decline in 2019

According to the data, China slaughtered 527.04m hoggs in 2020, a drop of 3.2% from the same period a year earlier. However, output in the final quarter of 2020 jumped by 13m tonnes. Figures from Reuters reveal that an additional 21%, or 10.74m tonnes was produced on the same quarter in 2019.

Overall, pork output in China slipped 3.3% in 2020 to 41.13m tonnes after falling a massive 21% in 2019 with its pig herd rising to 406.5m head at the end of December, from 370.39m in September.

Strong policy support from government and incentives in the third quarter of 2019 have seen more than 200bn yuan ($30.87bn) invested allowing the sector to rebuild the national herd.