As of Jun. 1, the U.S. hog and pig inventory numbered 79.6 million head, up 5 percent from June 2019 and up 3 percent from March 2020, stronger Q1-to-Q2 growth than usual. Q2 numbers may reflect pre-COVID-19 production assumptions, however, and year-over-year growth in Q3 and Q4 may be weaker.
USDA reports that U.S. hog producers have increased the slaughter of breeding animals (sows and boars), with 2020 slaughter pace exceeding that of 2019 since January, and it was especially high at 15 percent from mid-April through May, at the height of efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus among meat processing workers. Processing capacity is expected to remain below pre-pandemic levels for the rest of the year, and many plants also have a backlog of animals on site.
Pork exports exceeded 2.02 billion pounds in Q1 2020, and USDA expects good YOY growth to continue for the rest of the year—although the growth rate is projected to be between 5 and 10 percent, rather than the 40 percent YOY growth seen in Q1. As China rebuilds its swine herd, its pork imports will consequently decline, and U.S. hog producers will work to better match supply to demand to improve their returns, which have been weak since November 2019, according to Iowa State University.