The breeding herd was fractionally higher at just over 5.8 million head. Producers reduced farrowings in second-half 2012, likely as a result of poor returns and concerns about further increases in feed prices. However, in the second half of 2012, the decline in farrowing numbers was largely offset by gains in pigs per litter and the pig crop was virtually unchanged from 2011.

The impact of poor second half returns and concerns about feed prices through the balance of the crop year has extended into the first part of 2013 as producers intend to farrow fewer sows in the first half of the year.

However, as concerns about feed prices diminish with approach of the next crop harvest, producers are expected to increase second-half farrowings. Pigs per litter in 2013 are expected to grow at an average rate of just over 1 percent from 2012 which implies that the pig crop in first-half 2013 will be fractionally higher than last year despite reduced farrowings.

With expected increases in second-half 2013 farrowings and continued gains in pigs per litter, the 2013 pig crop is forecast at 118.6 million head, 1 percent above 2102.

U.S. hog imports are forecast at 5.5 million head for 2013, down slightly from 2012. The January 1, 2013 Canadian hog inventory will be released on March 6.

Although recent data points towards a gradual increase in the Canadian inventory over the past several years, a relatively weak U.S. dollar is expected to limit incentives for Canadian producers to ship more hogs and pigs to the U.S.

Commercial pork production for 2013 is forecast at 23.4 billion pounds, 0.7 percent higher than 2012. . Hog slaughter is expected be about 1 percent higher than last year as the slightly smaller second-half 2012 pig crop will be slaughtered during first-half 2013 and the larger expected first-half 2013 pig crop will be slaughtered in second-half 2013.

Carcass weights are expected to average just over 205 pounds. This is fractionally below last year as high feed prices during the first 3 quarters of the year are expected to encourage produces to market hogs as rapidly as possible.

For 2013, pork exports are forecast at about 5.46 billion pounds, up slightly from 2012’s record 5.38 billion pounds. Although 2012 exports were down to several key markets, notably, Japan, Korea, China, and Hong Kong, exports were higher to Russia, Canada and Mexico and a number of smaller markets.

Sales in 2013 are forecast to remain relatively strong as U.S. pork prices reflect higher production and increasing prices for beef may increase the attractiveness of pork for importing countries. However, Russia’s recent ban on U.S. pork which is not certified as Ractopamine-free may be a constraint on export growth during 2013.

Pork imports for 2013 are forecast at 800 million pounds, virtually unchanged from 2012. Imports have been between 802 and 803 million pounds for the past 2 years. Imports from Canada and Demark, the predominant sources of imports, were lower in 2012, but were partly offset by increases in imports from Mexico, Chile, and other European Union sources.

Imports for 2013 are expected to reflect increased U.S. production, weaker domestic prices, and the continued relative weakness of the U.S. dollar.

U.S. hog prices, on a national base, 51%-52% lean, live equivalent, are forecast to average $61 to $65 per cwt for 2013, up from last year’s $60.88 per despite higher production.

Higher forecast beef and broiler prices and increased exports may provide support for the hog sector if consumers view pork as price competitive.

Retail pork prices for 2012 are expected to average slightly below last year’s $3.47 per pound.