Market weights for hogs remain strong
Consumers benefit from heavier market weights and lower pork price.
Over the last 40 years the weight of market pigs has gradually risen. In 1974 and 1975 the weight for market pigs averaged 242 pounds. Over time, pig market weights have increased by an average of 1 pound per year. In 2011 and 2012, the market weight of pigs averaged 275 pounds.
In 2014, average market weights increased by nearly 10 pounds over that of 2012. For the most part this was not a planned decision by the industry. During the first quarter of 2014, a new disease, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) was introduced to the U.S. pork industry. This caused devastating mortality among small piglets and resulted in an unexpected shortage of pigs being marketed. This event, coupled with lower feed prices allowed farms the option of feeding their pigs longer before sending them to market, allowing for pigs to be marketed at heavier weights than normal. Farmers concluded that pigs were able to become heavier without getting overly fat and feed efficiency was within acceptable parameters. These improvements are due to decades of genetic improvement for decreased fat and improved feed efficiency.
Since pigs were able to remain leaner at heavier weights and economically convert feed to live weight, pigs remained profitable to farmers when marketed at heavier weights. In fact, earlier in 2015 an evaluation of market hog values and feed prices by Michigan State University Extension indicated that pigs could remain profitable to nearly 300 pounds. In this evaluation, market animals were valued at $0.65 per pound on a live weight basis, which was the price paid for market hogs in December 2014. Since then the industry has seen market price continue to decline with the cash market at $0.48 per pound. on April 10, 2014. This led to a 26 percent decrease in price paid to farmers, with market weights remaining high at an average of 283 pounds. In the evaluation completed by MSU Extension it was determined that price would have to drop dramatically for heavy weight market pigs to become unprofitable. Though market weights have recently declined, market price has not declined enough for farmers to market pigs at lighter weights.
Pork producers are very savvy and will continue to evaluate market price and inputs costs. If either appears to be moving in a direction that will cause farmers to become unprofitable market weights may decrease. In the meantime, consumers are benefiting from an 8.6 percent increase in hogs being marketed than a year ago. This increase in the number of pigs marketed and heavier market pig weights has put more pork on the market which in turn lowers the price of pork paid by many consumers.