The deadly outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus that has killed thousands of piglets across 20 states has made itself felt in official government numbers on the U.S. hog herd, which fell by 1 percent in the latest quarter.
"This confirms that PED is in the nation's hog herd, which was not shown nor implied in their previous report (September)," Rich Nelson, chief strategist at Allendale Inc, said after seeing USDA's lower hog numbers last Friday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the U.S. hog herd as of Dec. 1 at 99 percent of a year ago, or 65.940 million head. Analysts, on average, expected 66.307 million head, or 99.9 percent of a year earlier. The U.S. hog herd for the same period last year was 66.374 million head.
The quarterly report was the first to show a noticeable drop in hog numbers, which analysts attributed to PEDv, reinforcing expectations that herds will shrink as the industry struggles to develop vaccines to treat the virus. The outbreak largely did not show up in the September survey.
Hog numbers in all of the three major categories used by traders and producers as an insight into the state of the market - all hogs and pigs (or inventory), breeding and marketing - came in under expectations in the latest survey.
Significant impact to the pork industry
As of Dec. 15, the number of confirmed cases with PEDv totaled 1,764, according to data from the USDA's National Animal Health Laboratory Network. Each case could represent hundreds to thousands of hogs.
Smithfield Foods, the nation's biggest hog producer, said PEDv might result in a loss of 2 million to 3 million hogs, or a 2 to 3 percent decline in U.S. production in 2014.
Analysts and swine veterinarians have stressed that while the virus is fatal to young pigs, pork is safe to eat.
Another sign that PEDv is taking its toll on baby pigs is the slowdown in the upward trend in baby pigs per sow, analysts said.
The data on Friday showed producers had a record number of pigs per litter during the period at 10.16, up marginally compared with last autumn's record of 10.15. But, that is the smallest increase over the past two quarters.
"When pigs per litter is up only one tenth of 1 percent after averaging up 2 percent since 2003, that's quite a difference," said University of Missouri livestock economist Ron Plain.
USDA made significant revisions to past reports to account for larger-than-expected hog slaughter in recent months, he said.
The Dec. 1 supply of market-ready hogs was 99 percent of a year earlier at 60.183 million head. Analysts, on average, expected a 0.2 percent decline, or 60.435 million. Last autumn's market hog supply was 60.555 million.
For more information on the virus's impact in Kansas, click here, and be sure to read the February Kansas Farmer.