Sort & Cull

Second Thoughts on Second Thoughts

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

The ability and confidence to change your mind in the face of new and compelling evidence is a commendable trait. On the other hand, if your assessments begin to vary like presidential wannabes shuttling back and forth between Iowa and New Hampshire, credibility starts to smell like sour milk.

Pardon the spoiler alert, but the bean and pig counters at the USDA have been known to have second thoughts now and then. Take the most recent example of the government’s expanding effort to re-nail the size of last winter’s pig crop. Although these piglets have long since matured, for the most part, into digested bacon, chops, and sausage, their numbers still keep growing.

The September H&P report released on Friday was pretty much received by a sitting ovation of yawns and shrugs. The front-end of the inventory revealed absolutely no surprises, as predictable as Don Trump slapping himself on the back or Hillary Clinton sorting through emoticons of State.

Yet the report’s backfill (i.e., revisions) proved a little more alarming, at least among the nerdy pencil-pushers in the hall, those tedious accountants of livestock who can’t stop demanding that pigs-in actually square with hogs-out.

When the Dec-Feb nursery was originally estimated by the March 1 report, 28.76 million squeals seems like a lot of noise, 9.2% more ruckus than the PEDv silencing of the previous year. Yet as barrow and gilt slaughter began to consistent surpass expectations in the late spring and early summer, many began to suspect that enumerators had missed a few tails along the way.

Accordingly, when the June 1 inventory hit the press, it contained a new and improvement assessment of the previous winter’s pig crop, one totaling 28.97 million head, 208,000 more than originally suggested. And for the moment it seemed like nothing more than standard fine-tuning: no harm, no foul; we stand corrected; upward and onward.

But thirty days later market fact checkers were still grumbling. Why was summer chain speed still humming well above the implications of the “corrected” data? Washington number crunchers were sent back to the drawing board.

So the snout count unveiled last week contained the gov’s third run at last winter’s pig pull. For better or worse, this time the adjusters swung hammers instead of tweezers, boosted Dec-Feb production to 29.63 million, 664,000 head more than the June revision, and 12.6% greater than the previous year.

Have we finally put the final icing on the supply cake? Maybe. Of course, NASS has been known to have a long erasure, at times rubbing out mistakes as old as a year or more. Until livestock can be counted as easily as red cars in a white garage, the revision process will remain a wildcard stock in the deck.

I can live with that (like there’s a choice?), yet the upward curve of these particular corrections bother me. It’s clear that pork producers have aggressively bounced back from last year’s devastating impact of PEDv. Given the way operators were compensating for smaller, death-ridden litter by farrowing more sows, we all knew there was a danger of exploding pig numbers once the plague burned itself.

Is the explosion over, or will official bookkeepers eventually be forced to have second and third thoughts on the spring and summer pig crops? I don’t know about you, but whenever supply is trending higher, government ink just can’t dry fast enough.


John A. Harrington




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andrew mohlman
10/9/2015 | 8:24 AM CDT
Bird flu over kill is likely to makes you wonder if they will ever over talk a crop production problem I doubt. Corn market never gave back all those pigs