UPDATE 1-China's sow herd grew slightly in first two months - agriculture ministry

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BEIJING, March 18 (Reuters) - China’s sow herd grew 34.1% in February from the same month a year earlier and 1% from the prior month, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Thursday, providing a more rosy outlook than estimated by many analysts.

China’s herd of breeding sows is being closely watched after farm managers, veterinarians and analysts said there had been a high rate of outbreaks of African swine fever during winter months.

China produces about half of the world’s pigs but the deadly hog disease African swine fever wiped out about half of its herd during 2018 and 2019.

The ministry said it had almost recovered by the end of last year, but a resurgence of disease would delay the recovery.

Shandong-based Yongyi Consulting has estimated that the sow herd has been declining each month since December, with a 4.99% fall in January and a further 4.68% decline in February.

The ministry said in a statement that sow stocks grew by 1.1% and 1% respectively in January and February.

It added that the country’s total sow herd had reached 95% of end-2017 levels by the end of February, while its hog inventory remained above 400 million head.

Reporting by Min Zhang and Dominique Patton; Editing by Richard Pullin