Spanish swine herds forecast to decline in 2024 - GAIN

In 2022, Spain continued to be the major European Union (EU) pork producer and exporter. However, industry sources forecast declines in the swine herd, numbers of sows, and pig crop in Spain in 2023 and 2024 after hitting record levels in 2022, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report.

The reduction in sows and pig crop in 2023 is partially compensated by increased EU imports of piglets, mainly from the Netherlands and Portugal, which may continue in 2024. These EU pig imports alleviated the reduction in domestic slaughters in 2022 to meet the slaughterhouses’ demand.

In 2022, lower pig production in Spain was also exacerbated by several Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) outbreaks in Catalonia and Aragon but was compensated by major intra-EU pig imports. Current PRRS situations are under control according to Spanish sources. 

The record high input price experienced in 2022 in the swine sector resulted in a 2% reduction of total slaughter to 56,657 million heads and 5 million MT of pork. 

Pork prices have since skyrocketed.

According to the sector, the main driver to this reduction other than the expected decline in pork exports to China and other non-EU markets is the Spanish Royal Decree 159/2023 on Animal Welfare, which includes stricter requirements for sows and pigs than the EU regulation. The Decree, whose goal is to reduce tail docking of pigs, includes new values for the maximum density of animals in farms and new conditions regarding feeding, water, feeders, environmental conditions, and the availability of manipulable material for the animals. Existing farms will have two years to make the adaptations. As a result, Spain will have to restructure the swine sector for the next two years to readjust pork production.

Due to these adjustments, sow herd and slaughter may continue to decline in 2023 and 2024, with higher carcass weights needed to reach the level of pork production slightly below five million tons. 

In 2022, according to official data, sow slaughter increased to 900,000 animals. The sector expects another increase in 2023 due to the reduction in sow herds due to the Animal Welfare legislation. Fertility rates may remain constant despite unfavourable weather conditions. In Spanish indoor swine production (which accounts for around 92 percent of the total herd), fertility rates are 27-28 piglets per sow, while in the Iberian pig production that are raised outdoors, the rates decrease to 10 piglets per sow. 

Fertility rates for Iberico production were strongly affected by the severe drought in 2023. 

Additionally, due to the measures adopted to reduce antibiotic levels in swine in accordance to the ‘One Health’ approach and EU regulations, mortality rates and losses also increased in 2022 and may continue in 2023 and 2024.