China's pig herd in Sept down 41.1% from year earlier

FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at pork at a Walmart in Beijing, China September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s pig herd in September was 41.1% smaller than it was a year earlier, the agriculture ministry said on Monday, as a year-long African swine fever epidemic continued to slash the world’s largest herd.

The number of sows in China also fell by 38.9% in September, after the deadly disease spread to every province in the country.

The declines last month were larger than in August when the pig herd shrank by 38.7% and sow numbers fell 37.4%.

The industry widely believes the decline to be larger than official estimates, although the gap between the two have closed in recent months.

Rabobank estimates that the herd has already declined by 50% and could fall by 55% by the end of the year.

“Next year, especially in the first half, production will go down further,” Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at the bank, told Reuters on Friday.

China has issued a series of policies recently aimed at supporting national hog production, as pork prices have surged to record highs after African swine fever hit the world’s leading producer of the meat.

But while large companies are expanding aggressively, individual farmers are just trying to produce larger pigs instead of expanding their herds, said Pan.

China also stepped up imports of meats including pork and beef in recent months to fill in the protein supply gap in the world’s top market.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans