OVER the last 40 years, the weight of market pigs has gradually risen. In 1974-75, the weight for market pigs averaged 242 lb., and over time, pig market weights have increased by an average of 1 lb. per year. In 2011-12, the market weight of pigs averaged 275 lb.
In 2014, average market weights increased by nearly 10 lb. over those of 2012. For the most part, this was not a planned decision by the industry, Michigan State University (MSU) professor of swine genetics management Dr. Ron Bates and MSU extension educator Tom Guthrie recently noted.
During the first quarter of 2014, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) was introduced to the U.S. pork industry and caused devastating mortality among small piglets that resulted in an unexpected shortage of pigs being marketed. This event, coupled with lower feed prices, allowed farms the option of feeding their pigs longer before sending them to market, according to Bates and Guthrie. As a result, pigs could be marketed at heavier weights than normal.
"Farmers concluded that pigs were able to become heavier without getting overly fat, and feed efficiency was within acceptable parameters," they noted. "These improvements are due to decades of genetic improvement for decreased fat and improved feed efficiency."
Since pigs were able to remain leaner at heavier weights and economically convert feed to liveweight, pigs remained profitable to farmers when marketed at heavier weights, Bates and Guthrie said.
In fact, an evaluation of market hog values and feed prices by MSU Extension indicated that pigs could remain profitable to nearly 300 lb. In the evaluation, market animals were valued at 65 cents/lb. on a liveweight basis, which was the price paid for market hogs in December 2014. Since then, Bates and Guthrie said the industry has seen market prices continue to decline, leading to a 26% decrease in the price paid to farmers, with market weights remaining high, at an average of 283 lb.
In the evaluation, it was determined that the price would have to drop dramatically for heavyweight market pigs to become unprofitable.
"Though market weights have recently declined, market price has not declined enough for farmers to market pigs at lighter weights," they noted. "If either appears to be moving in a direction that will cause farmers to become unprofitable, market weights may decrease."
Pork producers are very savvy and will continue to evaluate market price and inputs costs, Bates and Guthrie said.
In the meantime, they said consumers are benefiting from an 8.6% increase in hogs being marketed compared to a year ago. This increase in the number of pigs marketed and heavier market weights has put more pork on the market, they said, which, in turn, lowers the price of pork paid by many consumers.
Trichinae testing eliminated
The recent elimination of trichinae testing for chilled pork products exported to Peru, Chile and Colombia is expected to expand market access for U.S. pork products in the South American nations, according to hog industry representatives.
The risk of getting trichinae from consuming U.S. pork is less than one in 300 million, but it has been a trade barrier for U.S. pork in those countries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service quality assessment division recently announced a new auditing and certification program for hogs raised under the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus program, which led to those countries agreeing to eliminate the testing requirement.
U.S. pork industry representatives have worked closely with U.S. and Chilean officials for many years to eliminate trichinae testing. Since the implementation of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement in 2004, the country has become the fastest-growing U.S. pork export market in the world. In fact, U.S. pork sales to Chile have risen from 41 metric tons in 2003 to more than 19,000 mt in 2014, making it the second-largest South American market after Colombia.
Peru also recently agreed to eliminate trichinae testing requirements on chilled U.S. pork based on USDA certification that the pork originated from PQA Plus farms. U.S. pork imports to Peru increased significantly after the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement was implemented in 2009, jumping from just $650,000 in 2008 to more than $6.7 million in 2014.
Based on an analysis conducted by Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, pork industry trade officials expect pork exports to Chile and Peru to grow even more now that the trichinae testing requirement has been eliminated.
The free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia was implemented in 2012. Tariffs on bacon and pork skin were eliminated when that agreement was approved and tariffs on most pork product will be phased out by next year. Colombia's import duties on U.S. pork are currently 6% and will be eliminated next year. The final removal of the trichinae mitigation requirement and the ability to ship fresh/chilled pork will further boost U.S. pork exports.
Pork pathogen sampling
USDA issued a notice April 13 that outlines sampling protocols for salmonella as part of the nationwide raw pork products exploratory sampling project (RPPESP).
USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) is implementing exploratory sampling of raw pork products for pathogens of public health concern, as well as for indicator organisms. The FSIS notice provides instructions to inspectors on how to update the establishment profile to include additional product groups so that all eligible pork products eventually will likely be subject to sampling.
FSIS will begin RPPESP to include product groups that are in USDA's Public Health Information System establishment profiles. All establishments that produce raw pork products with an average daily production volume of greater than 1,000 lb. are eligible for sampling.
Products sampled include bone-in, boneless and other intact cuts, ground pork, mechanically separated, advanced meat recovery products, sausages, patties and other formed, comminuted and non-intact products.
Not eligible for sampling are products that will receive full lethality treatment at a federally inspected establishment, provided that the establishment's hazard analysis and flow chart show that the product is intended for such a use.
Examples of full lethality treatments — other than cooking — can include high-pressure processing and irradiation, provided that the establishment has supporting documentation that shows that the treatment achieves a five-log reduction for salmonella and that the establishment applies the treatment in a manner that is consistent with its critical operational parameters.
Ineligible products include carcasses, primals, subprimals, edible offal, head meat, cheek meat and pork trimmings.
June pork conference
The pork checkoff will host the 2015 Pork Management Conference June 16-19 in New Orleans, La.
Titled "Your Pork Industry Investment," the annual conference will bring together experts from across the industry to speak on current business trends and challenges that help pork producers gain important insight and financial sophistication to manage their operation.
"The Pork Management Conference combines the latest production trends and business information with opportunities for pork producers to interact with knowledgeable financial professionals dedicated to helping them succeed," said James Coates, chair of the checkoff's producer and state services committee and a pork producer from Franklin, Ky.
In addition to the general sessions open to all attendees on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, two concurrent sessions are planned for Thursday. Topics will include capital development and diversification opportunities and experiences, generational transfer of farm ownership/leadership, audit overload panel, income and estate tax planning, surviving disasters on the farm, price discovery and mandatory price reporting.
A registration form and a detailed list of events are available at pork.org.