WASHINGTON — The number of pigs saved per litter for the December-to-February period was down significantly in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Quarterly Hogs and Pigs Report, reflecting the impact of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus on swine herds.

According to the USDA, the number of pigs saved per litter was down 5.5 percent from the same period one year ago at 9.53 head.

“That breaks the trend of year-to-year increases in that number,” said Jim Robb, director at the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Lakewood, Colo. “During my career this is probably the most anticipated hogs and pigs report we’ve had.”

Prior to this report, the pigs saved per litter number was increasing 1.5 percent to 2 percent year over year, reported John Nalivka, president of Sterling Marketing of Vale, Ore.

Although the most current number was impacted by the virus, the analyst said, “we were starting to see a little bit of reduction anyway in the litter number because you can’t continue to go higher and higher on some of these efficiency standards.”

For December to February, the USDA reported the total pig crop at 27,316,000 head, down 2.8 percent from one year ago. Sows farrowing during this period totaled 2,867,000 head, up 2.8 percent from last year.

Farrowing Plans

Sow farrowing intentions for March to May are estimated at 2,884,000 head, up 2.4 percent from last year, and for the June to August period, up 2 percent to total 2,960,000 head.

“During February to March, there have been producer margins of $62 per head, and that compares to a loss of $30 per head during the same period a year ago,” Nalivka reported. “So there is motivation to expand with the profitability and the expectations of profitability intermediate to long term in 2014.”

The USDA calculates a sow utilization rate, Robb said.

“The rate of sows being utilized is at 50 percent, and that’s the largest number since 2009,” he reported. “That indicates management things going on in terms of trying to get sows rebred, holding sows longer, etc.”

As of March 1, the number of all hogs and pigs totaled 66,899,000 head, down 3.3 percent from the 2013 total. The number of hogs kept for breeding was even from one year ago at 5,851,000 head. The market hog inventory totaled 67,048,000 head, down 3.7 percent from last year.

For the market hog numbers by weight groups, the USDA estimated under 50 pounds at 18,101,000 head, down 4 percent from one year ago; 50 to 119 pounds at 15,717,000 head, down 3.3 percent; 120 to 179 pounds at 12,793,000 head, down 2.9 percent; and 180 pounds and over 10,436,000 head, down 4.8 percent.

Supply Down

The supply of pork is declining, Nalivka said.

“But we’re not going to run out of pork,” he stressed. “Although it’s been a long time since we’ve seen these kinds of reductions in total meat supplies.”

“It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen prolonged period of pork production down more than 5 percent,” agreed Daniel Bluntzer, director of research at Frontier Risk Management in Corpus Christi, Texas. “This is something we haven’t dealt with in a long time.”

And, Bluntzer said, the beef complex also is experiencing short supplies.

“It’s been a long time since both of these red meats have been in short supply at the same time,” he noted.

Based on the Lean Carcass Values for Western Cornbelt, Nalivka said he expects prices for the first quarter of 2014 to average $94.50, for the second quarter around $110, fall closer to $108 during the third quarter and to average around $94 for the fourth quarter.

“I’m quite a bit more bullish than that,” said Bluntzer, who tracks prices based on the CME Lean Hog Index.

“For the second quarter, my prediction is in the $128 area, third quarter $124 area and dropping down to $102 or $101 for the fourth quarter,” he added.

“Depending on how things unfold, we could potentially have the lowest prices of the year during the fourth quarter,” Robb said.

For the National Weighted Average Base Price, Robb said the first quarter will range from $90 to $92, which is up 12.2 percent from one year ago.

During the second quarter of 2014, he expects pork production to decrease 4 percent to 5 percent and prices to increase 33 percent to 35 percent from one year ago to $115 to $123.

“There will be a similar year-to-year decline in the third quarter for hog slaughter of 4 to 5 percent and pork production of 2 to 3 percent,” he predicted. “That will put prices 26 percent above a year ago at $115 to $125.”

The analyst expects fourth-quarter prices to range from $85 to $95.

“That will be 8 (percent) to 9 percent up from last year,” he noted.

“Early 2015 is anybody’s guess,” Robb said.

“Depending on how the disease unfolds, we could see modest or slight year-to-year declines in hog prices,” he added.