China pork supplies under pressure in second-quarter, prices may peak around September: official

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s pork supply will be under pressure in the second quarter and prices may peak around September due to the impact of the African swine fever that decimated its herd, an agriculture ministry official said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Customer wearing face masks buy pork meat at a wholesale market for agricultural products, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

Supplies will be under pressure because of a low production base, uncertainty in imports and recovering consumption, said Yang Zhenhai, head of the husbandry bureau under the ministry.

Chinese pork prices hit record levels of 53.79 yuan ($7.59) per kg in October 2019, up almost three-fold from a year earlier, after African swine fever killed millions of pigs in the world’s top pork producer.

But prices have been dropping since early February on pig production recovery and flat demand.

China’s sow herd by end of March rose 2.8% from the previous month, while the number of piglets increased 7.3%, Yang said, according to a statement on the website of the Ministry and Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

“Though pig production is improving, pork supplies remain tight,” Yang said.

China’s pork output over January-March fell by a sharp 29% year on year, marking a sixth straight quarter of declines and underlining the extent of the impact from the disease and the huge task the sector faces in trying to rebuild.

China has taken measures to buoy pork output and meats supplies to plug the huge protein gap, but curbs to contain an outbreak of the novel coronavirus - which has confined people to their homes and shuttered businesses including slaughterhouses - have disrupted efforts.

The coronavirus, which emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year, has infected 2.4 million people and killed more than 169,000 worldwide.

China’s pork supply situation was expected to improve after July, Yang added, but stronger consumption in the second half will push prices up.

The agriculture ministry this year has been helping pig farmers speed up production and increasing supplies of alternative protein products by easing restrictions on live poultry markets and facilitating eggs sales, Yang said.

China will continue to prevent and control African swine fever while pushing ahead with newly built pig farms, to make sure hog production by end of 2020 will be close to levels in normal years, Yang said.

African swine fever risks have significantly increased recently, as farmers rushed to build farms and more pigs got transported, China’s deputy agriculture minister Yu Kangzhen said at a conference on Monday.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Tom Daly; Editing by Himani Sarkar