UPDATE 2-China 2021 pork output leaps 29%, recoups most of production lost to swine fever

(Updates with analyst comment in paragraph 7; adds details and chart)

BEIJING, Jan 17 (Reuters) - China’s 2021 pork output jumped 29% from the previous year, official data showed on Monday, recouping most of the production lost during a devastating outbreak of African swine fever two years before.

Annual output reached 52.96 million tonnes last year, just below the 53.4 million tonnes produced in 2017, the year before the hog disease began killing pigs across the world’s top pork producer. The disease had wiped out about half of breeding farms by 2019.

The recovery comes after Beijing called for an urgent resumption in pork production in mid-2019 and released subsidies to support breeders, triggering a wave of investment in new, large-scale farms. The rebound in output has come earlier than many had predicted.

The numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics were in line with expectations and point to a growing oversupply that has weighed on prices since mid-2021.

While pork production is back to “normal” levels, demand is still weak due to frequent COVID-19 outbreaks.

Pork prices PORK-CN-TOT-D are currently 60% lower than a year ago. They plunged this month even in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday on Feb.1 that normally spurs strong demand for meat.

“The market is not the market of several years ago. It needs to rebalance,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank, adding that output could be even higher in 2022 based on the current breeding herd.

Pork production had plunged more than 20% in 2019, after the incurable African swine fever disease hit China in mid-2018 and wiped out farms in every province for many months afterwards.

Though still infecting pigs, producers have boosted hygiene measures and also become better at detecting it and slowing its spread once it arrives on a farm.

Pork output rose to 13.79 million tonnes in the October-December period from 13 million tonnes in the same quarter a year earlier, according to Reuters’ calculations based on statistics bureau data.

It was the highest quarterly volume since the first quarter of 2019, when farmers were slaughtering entire herds to avoid the cost of tough measures imposed to control the spread of swine fever.

China slaughtered 671.28 million hogs in 2021, up 27% from a year earlier, the data also showed.

The national pig herd reached 449.22 million heads by end December, up from 437.64 million heads at the end of September.

Output of poultry also increased, rising 0.8% in 2021 to 23.8 million tonnes. Beef output was up 3.7% to 6.98 million tonnes.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Kim Coghill, Kenneth Maxwell and Ana Nicolaci da Costa