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June's USDA hog numbers at lowest level since 2007

Iowa Correspondent


DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. hog numbers in the second quarter of 2014 were at their lowest level since 2007, which was down 5 percent from last June, according to the June 1 USDA Quarterly Hogs & Pigs report released June 27.

"I have the utmost respect for the USDA and their comprehensive look at the numbers," said Kevin Bost, president of Procurement Strategies in Des Plaines, Ill., "but I don’t believe their numbers."

He added the December-to-February to March-to-May farrowings hadn’t declined this much since 1975: "We knew they would be down, but not by this much."

In addition, Chris Hurt, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, said porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) isn’t under control, "even in the warmer weather," in which PEDv deaths would likely decrease, "and that is being reflected in the small numbers of lighter-weight hogs.

"We’ve seen it moderate some, but not as much as hoped," he added. "Pigs per litter had grown steadily over the last five years, and that is down again."

Prior to the June 1 report, the CME Group June 25 report said analysts "clearly" expected the report to continue to reflect the impact of PEDv, with March-May litter size, down nearly 5 percent and the March-May pig crop, down more than 2 percent from last year.

"Those figures are very close to the minus-5.5 percent and minus-2.8 percent that the USDA’s March report showed for the same items in the December-February quarter," the CME report stated. "Note that analysts expect the impact of PEDv to wane with the under-50 pounds category of market pigs expected to be down much less than the heavier-weight groups."

Bost, Hurt and Victor Aideyan, senior risk management consultant for HISGRAIN Commodities, Inc. in London, Ontario, analyzed the report in a June 27 teleconference, where all three agreed the June 1 numbers should have been much higher. "We have been hearing ‘never-before-seen margins,’ so producers should be looking at some serious hedging, at the very least over winter," Aideyan said.

Sponsored by the pork checkoff in Des Moines, the report said the U.S. inventory of all hogs and pigs on June 1 was 62.1 million head, which was down 5 percent from June 1, 2013, and 1 percent from March 1, 2014. The report also stated North Carolina, the nation’s second-largest hog producer, had 7.7 million head, and Minnesota, the third-largest hog producer, showed 7.75 million head.

Moreover, while the U.S. hog inventory has decreased since June 2013, the report added producers in Michigan, South Dakota and Texas increased the number of hogs and pigs in their states.

As the nation’s top hog-producing state, Iowa had 19.2 million hogs and pigs, which was the lowest inventory in the state since March 2011. The June 1 inventory was down 3 percent from March, and 4 percent from a year ago, the report said.

As of June 1, Iowa pig farmers planned to farrow 495,000 head of sows and gilts in the June-August quarter, the report said, with farrowing intentions for the September-November quarter estimated at 485,000.

In Indiana, the total hog and pig inventory was estimated at 3.5 million head, unchanged head from a year ago. In Illinois, the total inventory of all hogs and pigs on June 1 was 4.35 million head, unchanged from March 1 but down 6 percent from last year, the report said.

In Michigan, the total hog and pig inventory was estimated at 1.01 million head, up 10,000 from a year ago. In Missouri, the total inventory of all hogs and pigs was 2.49 million head, up 2 percent from March 1 but down 6 percent from last year, the report said.

In Ohio, the total hog and pig inventory on was estimated at 2 million head, down 130,000 from a year ago. Kentucky and Tennessee had no totals reported.

Lower expansion is surprising

The report also said the U.S. breeding inventory, at 5.85 million head, was down slightly from last year, but up slightly from the previous quarter, which Hurt said surprised him the most. He added most analysts thought expansion would have been more evident in the report.

"We have seen profitability back to late summer, when corn prices went down, so we had expected to see expansion pick up," he said. "But that’s not the case."

The report said the U.S. market hog inventory, at 56.3 million head, was down 5 percent from last year and 1 percent from last quarter. The report noted the March-May pig crop, at 27.4 million head, was down 5 percent from 2013. Sows farrowed during this period totaled 2.8 million head, down slightly from 2013, with the sows farrowed during this quarter representing 48 percent of the breeding herd.

What’s more, the average pigs saved per litter was 9.78 for the March-May period, compared to 10.31 last year. Pigs saved per litter by size of operation ranged from 7.8 for operations with 1-99 hogs and pigs, to 9.8 for operations with more than 5,000.

The report said U.S. hog producers intend to have 2.89 million sows farrow during the June-August quarter, up slightly from the actual farrowings during the same period in 2013, but down 1 percent from 2012. Intended farrowings for September-November, at 2.88 million sows, are up 4 percent from 2013 but down slightly from 2012.

The total number of hogs under contract owned by operations with more than 5,000 head but raised by subcontractors accounted for 48 percent of the total hog inventory, up from 46 percent last year.

Hurt said the reason for the lack of expansion may be because "pork producers dug themselves a deep financial hole with expensive corn the last few years, so maybe some bankers were holding them back.

"Now the cash flow will put them back in good, strong standing," he said. "Producers should be getting in touch with their CPA to be discussing income tax consequences."

As a result, he said producers should see their bottom lines increase in the next several months.

"I’m estimating prices in the third quarter, on a live-weight basis, of $91 per cwt., which is a profit of about $90 per pig. That’s something we’ve never seen before."

Hurt also forecasts prices would be around $74 per cwt. in the fourth quarter and near $67 per cwt. in the first quarter of 2015, with expansion coming soon this year. "(Producers) may want to look at the money they’re making and ease some of the tax liability," he said. "That could get them to start thinking about expansion."