A little slice of hog heaven

Record pig report, corn-soybean rally temper pessimism on fall harvest

The USDA reported a record inventory of hogs and pigs on farms across the nation this week. (Shutterstock)

The USDA reported a record inventory of hogs and pigs on farms across the nation this week. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

Farmers have generally been pessimistic about the short-term prospects for the fall harvest after the turbulent weather this season, but they got some good news this week in the form of a record-breaking hog report and a brief rally in corn and soybean prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the estimated inventory of hogs and pigs on farms across the nation as of Sept. 1 reached 77.7 million head, including 71.2 million market hogs — both up about 3.5 percent from a year ago, and at record highs since the USDA began counting in 1988.

“We’re looking at a record market hog inventory, which is going to give us record slaughter,” Ron Plain, University of Missouri professor emeritus, said during a teleconference held by the National Pork Board. “We’re already experiencing some of that.”

FarmWeekNow.com reported that “hog slaughter from Sept. 1-27 increased 5.2 percent from a year ago as slaughter during one week last month was the second-largest weekly production on record. Slaughter also set a daily record Sept. 10. … Meanwhile, the pig crop from June to August totaled 35.3 million head, up 3 percent from last year and a record since USDA started tracking that number in 1970.”

“We’re going to have plenty of hogs and pork this fall and into winter,” Plain said.

The story added that farmers were trying to expand their inventory even while increasing the fall slaughter, in part to meet international demand following the outbreak of Asian swine fever in China, where an estimated one-third of the nation’s herd was lost.

“In Illinois, the inventory of all hogs and pigs totaled 5.3 million head as of Sept. 1, unchanged from June but down 3 percent from a year ago,” according to FarmWeekNow. “The breeding inventory in the state reached 590,000 head, up 20,000 from last year.”

“With strong domestic demand and optimism about exports, I think there’ll be black ink and profits ahead for producers,” Plain said.

With strong domestic demand and optimism about exports, I think there’ll be black ink and profits ahead for (pork) producers.
— University of Missouri Professor Emeritus Ron Plain

President Trump’s ongoing trade war with China prompted farmers to hold on to more of their corn and soybeans, but a USDA report this week found that “the estimates of stocks in all positions for corn and soybeans came in well below trade expectations, thus triggering a rally on the last day of September,” FarmWeekNow reported.

The rally in prices for those crops came to an end Thursday, in part over concerns that next week’s USDA Crop Production report could show an increased supply, thus lowering prices. On the demand side, while China’s Asian swine fever outbreak created a new opportunity for hog farmers, it also deprived corn and soybean farmers of a key market for feed crops.

The September Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer, based on a mid-month survey of 400 agricultural producers across the nation, found pessimism on prices rising on farms, again according to FarmWeekNow. The percentage of farmers expecting lower prices, 22 percent, was twice as high as those expecting higher prices, 11 percent. That was after July found a higher percentage of farmers expecting higher prices rather than lower, 21 to 18 percent, for the first time since early last year.

Illinois farmers got a welcome blast of warm weather in September in their bid to play catch-up after planting was delayed almost across the state and in much of the nation by heavy spring rains this year. The Illinois average temperature was 71.3 degrees, five degrees above the average.

“If the preliminary numbers hold, it would be tied for the fourth-warmest September in Illinois since 1895 and actually the warmest since 1933,” said Trent Ford, state climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey, in an interview with the RFD Radio Network. “We saw several (weather) stations, especially in the southwest and southern part of the state, break maximum and minimum daily temperature records.”

But the northwest corner of the state was soaked with more than 12 inches of rain, three to four times the normal amount, which kept crops from maturing and being ready for harvest. Heavy rains hit eastern Illinois last weekend, which also kept farmers out of the fields to harvest what crops they could.

This week’s USDA Crop Progress report found that the harvest of Illinois corn and soybeans lagged behind the national average for those crops. Just 1 percent of soybeans had been harvested in Illinois, compared with 7 percent nationally, while 4 percent of corn had been harvested in Illinois, behind the 11 percent recorded nationally.