The situation in Europe

The combined March 1 and April 1 breeding herd inventory for US and Canadian producers stood at 7.394 million pigs, 96.3% of the 2008 number for the same period.


Because so much of our profitability is now tied to successful exporting of our products, it is interesting to look at pig numbers from our major export competitor, countries that comprise the EU27 community. All countries in the EU27 take a year end inventory of all pigs and breeding sows (sows and gilts in pig, other sows for breeding and intended gilts). While the data is not yet available for all countries in the EU27, the major pork producing countries have summarized their data.


Germany is the largest pork producer in the EU27, with 26.719 million pigs in inventory (compared to 19.3 million in Iowa on March 1, 2009), of which 2.296 million were breeding sows. Total inventory was 98.5% of the 2007 number while sows were 95% of the 2007 number. The smaller decline in total inventory is the result of increased imports of weaned pigs from Denmark for growth to slaughter.


Spain is the second largest pork producer in the EU27, with 26.290 million pigs in inventory, of which 2.542 million were breeding sows, the largest sow herd in the EU27. This breeding herd compared to 1.040 million animals in the breeding herd in Iowa. Total pig inventory is 100.9% of the 2007 number, while the sow number is 95.5% of the 2007 inventory.


France is number 3 in EU27 inventory, with 14.796 million pigs (100.9% of 2007), of which 1.201 million are breeding sows (99.3% of 2007). Poland ranks 4th, with 14.242 million pigs (80.8% of 2007), of which 1.279 million are breeding sows (80.6% of 2007). The sharp decline in Polish numbers reflects comments that I have heard from several people who have been in that country in the past year which suggests a very tough economic climate.


Denmark is number 5 in pig numbers at 12.195 million (92.6% of 2007) of which 1.201 million are breeding sows (95.3% of 2007). While many of us think of Denmark as the leader in EU27 production due to their presence in the Japanese and other export markets, their herd size is approximately 50% of that in Germany and Spain.


The countries that surprised me with pig inventory numbers were Italy and the United Kingdom. Italy has 9.252 million pigs in inventory (99.8% of 2007), of which 756 thousand were breeding sows (100.3% of 2007). Contrast this with 4.550 million pigs in the UK (97.4% of 2007), of which 488 thousand were breeding females (98.0% of 2007).


I never picture Italy as a leading pork producing country, even though I am aware of their production of very heavy finishing pigs for trademark ham production. Their pig inventory is almost identical to the March 1, 2009 numbers from North Carolina, with a breeding herd that is similar in size to Illinois.


On the other hand, we always think of the United Kingdom (Britain, Ireland and Scotland) as country that has a history of production. Their pig numbers are very similar to the numbers in Illinois.


In sum, while there appears to be a general trend towards fewer pigs in the EU27 (most notably in Poland and Denmark), Spain and Italy appear to showing only minimal signs of reducing production. With 159.724 million pigs and 14.946 breeding sows in inventory at the end of 2007, we can’t ignore their trends in production as we compete in the global market.

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