There are tentative indications that the EU pig herd is starting to decline, according to Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Market Analyst Stephen Howarth.

“The latest central statistics office figures confirm that breeding sow numbers have fallen by 4.0% in Poland over the past year,” he said.

“Poland is always out of the traps first when it comes to publishing census data. But if this trend was to be repeated in countries such as Germany and France and Spain over the coming weeks then it would point to a significant downturn in EU pigmeat output.

“This would start to become apparent in the marketplace by the end of this year.

“Adding further weight to the production downturn scenario are the latest sow culling figures from Germany, which are starting to increase.”

Howarth confirmed that pig producer incomes are under pressure throughout most of mainland Europe at the present time.

“A contraction in pig output should lead to a strengthening of farmgate prices,” he said.

“But it’s unlikely that farmers would see any developments of this nature taking place before the fourth quarter of 2015.”

Commenting on the prospect of Russia relaxing its ban on EU food imports later this year, Howarth said that developments in this regard would make little or no impact on Europe’s pig sector.

“African Swine Fever is still impacting on the pig industries of Poland and the Baltic states. While this remains the case, Russia will use the issue as a convenient reason for saying no to EU pork.

“Moscow has expressed the desire of doing business with individual EU member states. But Brussels has made it quite clear this cannot happen.”

Howarth also believes that Russia is not the attractive outlet for EU pork products, as would have been the case 12 months ago.

“The rouble has been devalued significantly over the past year,” he said.

“There is also the prospect that US and Canadian pork exporters will get back into the Russian market before their EU counterparts.”