ST. LOUIS —
Those lowered expectations sent prices of corn — also used in ethanol, further squeezing supply — to record highs through much of the summer. Feed generally makes up about 60 percent of the expense of raising a pig. Rather than absorb the higher costs, swine and beef producers often have culled their animals by sending them to slaughter.
As of Sept. 1, the nation's inventory of hogs numbered 67.5 million head, up slightly from a year earlier, the USDA reported Friday. But the USDA suggested that pork supplies will tighten next year as the nation's breeding stock and intended farrowings — birthings of litters of pigs — likely will drop due to high feed costs.
"I think we're going to (still) see pretty substantial liquidations" of livestock, Meyer said, guessing that 3 percent of the nation's breeding pigs could be sent to slaughter by next March. "And by my estimation, that's a big move."
The USDA said the breeding inventory of sows and boars stands at 5.79 million head, down slightly from last year and off 1 percent from the previous quarter.
Such liquidations could mean a temporary glut of pork on the U.S. market, depressing pork prices before the oversupply eases and the volume of pork drops again next year, causing hog prices to rebound, said Ron Plain, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Consequently, he estimates, the higher costs will be passed along to consumers, who could end up paying 10 percent more for their bacon.
As of Friday, the USDA said, a pound of sliced bacon cost an average of $4.05 at the nation's supermarkets, down 22 cents from a week earlier.
Pig producer Phil Borgic is banking on high prices. With 3,400 sows near Nokomis in central Illinois, Borgic figures he's had to spend $2 million more this year for the 600,000 bushels of corn he feeds his pigs. Rather than sell off animals on the spot market, the 56-year-old farmer is hedging his bets by contracting them out for slaughter over a staggered period in coming months — what he sees only as a break-even proposition.
"The previous couple of years have been good to us," he said. "Then the drought changed the ballgame on a worldwide level."
He waves off the concerns about consumers facing shortages.
"The U.S. has plenty of pork, and we won't run out here," he said. "We'll have some price inflation, but we have plenty of supply."