Pork producers are maintaining the size of the breeding herd in the face of a very uncertain financial outlook.

This cautious position is expected given the wide swings in both hog and feed prices evident this spring. In addition, little change should be expected in the hog herd until the feed supply situation is better known this fall, said Chris Hurt, a Purdue University agricultural economist.

"The USDA's June Hogs and Pigs report indicated that producers maintained the size of the breeding herd over the past year," he said. "North Carolina continued to lead the states reducing their breeding herds. The national breeding herd has declined 5 percent in the past three years, and North Carolina alone accounts for about half of that total."

The smaller sow herd remains very productive, however, as the number of pigs per litter reached 10 pigs for the first time ever this spring. This resulted in the number of market hogs being up by nearly 1 percent over levels of a year earlier.

According to Hurt, consumers will have to pay record high prices for U.S. pork this year as high feed prices over the past four years are finally being transmitted to consumers.

"Retail prices through May this year have averaged a record $3.35 per pound, which is up 14 percent from $2.93 a pound during the same period in 2010. Everyone in the pork marketing channel is sharing as packer gross margins are up 10 percent, retail gross margins are up 14 percent, and producers have received 16 percent higher prices," he said.

Heavily contributing to U.S. pork demand is a record level of pork exports. Numbers through April show a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2010.

"For the first four months of the year, exports represented an amazing 22 percent of all the pork being produced in the United States. The big export increases this year are heading to Asia, led by South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. USDA projects that exports for the entire year will be up 15 percent," he said.

There just isn't much pork left for U.S. consumers as supplies per person will be down about 3 percent in 2011.