‘We’ve emptied the freezers’: Optimism for pork exports in 2021


By Jeannine Otto, AgriNews (IL)

January 08, 2021


DES MOINES, Iowa — If uncertainty and upheaval were the mottos for the U.S. pork industry in 2020, the last U.S. Department of Agriculture hogs and pigs report of the year carried that theme through the year’s end.


“It leaves a lot of uncertainty,” said Dale Durchholz of Grain Cycles in Bloomington, Illinois.


Durchholz discussed the report along with Bob Brown, livestock market consultant from Edmond, Oklahoma; Altin Kalo, commodity analyst with Steiner Consulting Group in Manchester, New Hampshire; and Steve Meyer, economist with Partners for Production Agriculture in Ames, Iowa.


They spoke on a Pork Checkoff-sponsored call following the Dec. 23 release of the fourth-quarter USDA hogs and pigs report. The report counts the Dec. 1 inventory of U.S. hogs and pigs.


Between breeding numbers and revisions, the report held surprises for analysts and industry watchers.


The breeding herd was smaller than analysts expected prior to the report. At 6.276 million head, the number was 3% smaller than a year ago and considerably smaller than pre-report estimates that had the number down only 1.8% from a year ago.


“To me, the decline in the breeding herd is one of the more important numbers in this report. It speaks to the uncertainty as far as overall supply for the summer and fall of 2021,” Kalo said.


The September-November farrowings, at 3.164 million head, were down 1% from a year ago and another noticeable difference from the estimates that had that number down almost 4%.


The December-February farrowing intentions were at 3.118 million head, up 1.6% from a year ago and that number was expected to be down 1.7%.


The March-May farrowing intentions, at 3.123 million head, were down 0.8% and was expected to be down 1.4%.


The September-November pig crop of 34.973 million head was down 0.8% and was expected to be down 3.4%.


The analysts on the call agreed that the situation in the U.S. pork industry and meat processing industry due to disruptions from COVID-19 has made it difficult to determine what actual U.S. pig numbers are.


“One thing that adds into this mix that all of us are having is the difficulties we had in the slaughter industry and the shifts in terms of when hogs were slaughtered and how many hogs were potentially euthanized, which we don’t know, and creates a real nightmare for an analyst to use last year’s numbers as a basis. It’s probably going to continue to add some volatility in everybody’s ideas and expectations as we go forward,” Durchholz said.


Kalo said with the slaughter number being the single reliable number that the USDA has to work with, given the upheaval in the U.S. slaughter industry in 2020, it makes the job of accurately estimating hog numbers more difficult.


“We only see the animals when they come to market. Then USDA has to go back and because of all the disruptions of COVID, and some disappearance, it’s a really tough job for USDA to go back and use their regular methods to make some of these adjustments,” Kalo said.


Meyer agreed...