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Experts question the numbers in USDA quarterly hogs and pigs report

By Doug Rich

The U.S. hog inventory is up slightly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture September Quarterly hogs and pigs report, which was released on Sept. 27.

According to the report all hogs and pigs on U.S. farms totaled 68.4 million head on Sept. 1. This is up slightly from Sept. 1, 2012, and up 3 percent from June 1, 2013.

The report put the breeding herd inventory at 5.81 million head, up from last year at this time but down 1 percent from the previous quarter. The market hog inventory was 62.5 million head—up from last year and up 3 percent from last quarter. It was down slightly from last year but up 3 percent from June 1.

The number that caught the attention of many industry experts was the average pigs saved per litter. The report put the average pigs saved per litter at a record high 10.33 for the June-August period compared to 10.13 last year. Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, said analysts expected this number to be even with last year.

At a Pork Checkoff–sponsored press conference following release of the quarterly report, three experts analyzed the numbers. Speaking at the press conference were Dan Vaught, economist with Doane Advisory Service; Len Steiner, president of Steiner Consulting Group; and Lee Shulz, Extension livestock economist from Iowa State University.

Vaught looked specifically at the number of pigs over 180 pounds. The report put the number of hogs on farms over 180 pounds at 11.09 million head, which is 4 percent less than one year ago.

“Essentially, this is implying that slaughter rates from this point are going to come pretty close to last year with the lighter weight categories all up 1 percent,” Vaught said. “This implies that the numbers will move above last year.”

Vaught said this would be difficult to do. He said different practices by producers late last summer along with hot weather caused a huge surge in hog marketing from mid-August through much of September. Marketings are more normal this year but the numbers have been down, dramatically down in the last three weeks of September.

Vaught said this report implies a very quick recovery in slaughter rates.

“If we don’t see that we will start to question these numbers very quickly,” Vaught said.

Steiner said he was really scratching his head over some of the numbers, in particular, the breeding herd numbers. Steiner said the 5.81 million head breeding inventory number is below the lowest number that the analysts came up with prior to the report.

“With sow prices up and indications that farmers have been holding back gilts it just does not ring true,” Steiner said.

The analysts also differed with numbers in the report on the 50- to 119-pound and the 120 to 179 pig numbers. The USDA numbers are above the highest numbers the analysts could come up with in pre-report estimates. Steiner said this report indicates slaughter numbers will pick up and be above a year ago numbers in a few weeks.

“We are having a tough time with this U-turn in the slaughter numbers,” Steiner said. “I think a couple of these numbers have to be a little suspect.”

Shulz said looking at farrowing intentions the industry is looking at pig crops remaining large and projecting to be very large compared to historical levels. The September to November period could potentially be up 2 percent compared to last year and then the beginning of the year up about half a percent.

“Potentially increasing those slaughter numbers 2 to 3 percent the beginning of next year,” Shulz said.

The panel was questioned about the PED virus impact on these numbers. PEDv is caused by a coronavirus similar to the one that causes TGE in pigs and causes diarrhea in swine of all ages. It was not detected in U.S. swineherds until last spring.

“This report was supposed to be our first take on animal losses due to this virus,” Meyer said. “The number of case ascensions reported by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians is up to 644 cases in 17 states. Those started back in April and really started to reach a critical mass in June. There is really no way to estimate pig losses from these cases because we don’t know anything about the farms from which they came and there is no guarantee that samples are being sent from every farm with the disease.”

“These numbers on the litter size are larger than what I would have expected given what we know about PEDv and the impact it has had on baby pig survival,” Meyer said. “Remember the USDA numbers are pigs saved per litter and not pigs farrowed per litter,” Meyer said.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at richhpj@aol.com.

Date: 10/7/2013

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