The size of China’s pig herd – one of the most important datapoints in world agriculture - will extend its rapid recovery into 2021, but not as rapidly as some commentators believe, extending the country’s reliance on substantial pork imports.
China’s swine herd will expand by 9.5% in 2020 to 339.8m head, as breeders and producers recover from the devastation caused by African swine fever, the US Department of Agriculture’s Beijing bureau said.
That would be the fastest pace of growth in 23 years, and equivalent in numbers to nearly 40% of the US herd.
And, in its first forecasts for 2021, the bureau pencilled in further growth of 8.9%, taking the herd to 370.0m head, saying that “high prices provide financial stimulus to invest in large-scale expansion”.
Pork prices – which in February surged to record levels, sufficient to give pig producers a profit of 2,814 yuan ($402) per head, according to industry sources – “are expected to remain high during the rest of the year”.
This in turn is fostering high demand for piglets, values of “which remain high at roughly 100 yuan per kilogramme, or around 1,700-2,000 yuan ($243-286) per head, signalling that the herd expansion will continue to grow”, the bureau said.
However, the bureau’s forecast for 2020 expansion was less ambitious than that the USDA is officially factoring in, of 14.4% growth in numbers to 355.0m head.
It is also less than anticipated by China’s agriculture ministry, Mara, which sees a widespread drive to crackdown on ASF, and boost high-quality expansion, as fuelling a recovery in herd numbers this year to levels ahead of the epidemic, pegged by the USDA at just under 430m head.
“Mara expects the pork supply will rapidly increase during the second half of 2020 and hog inventories will reach 100% of the normal level by the end of 2020,” the bureau said.
It added that it “concurs with the Mara’s expectation of a rapid recovery in the last half of 2020, but estimates the actual hog inventory will be closer to 80% of pre-ASF levels”.
It also said that “it is important to note that in the past, when the central government sets specific production targets for the provinces, the numbers reported out by industry and the local governments generally reflect achievement of those targets, regardless of actual production numbers”.
The size of China’s swine herd – equivalent to roughly half the world total - is influential for a range of markets, including those for feed ingredients, with the country reliant on imports of especially soybeans to meet needs.
It also has a large bearing on the country’s requirement for pork imports, which the bureau pegged soaring 76% to 4.30m tonnes this year to fill the gap created by the ASF hit to China’s herd, with “reduced domestic supplies… unable to meet demand”.
For 2021, China’s pork imports were seen easing back to 3.70m tonnes a figure which would still represent the second largest on records.
“Pork imports will still be much higher than pre-ASF levels, but will begin to stabilise.”