BEIJING, April 1 (Reuters) - A wave of African swine fever
outbreaks this year has wiped out at least 20% of the breeding
herd in northern China, industry sources and analysts said,
exceeding expected losses and raising fears about the potential
for further impact in the south.
The estimates point to the extent of the disease's
resurgence in the first quarter of 2021 after more than a year
of declining outbreaks, heralding a significant setback to
China's efforts to replenish its hog herds after African swine
fever reached the country in August 2018 and wiped out 50% of
the country's pigs within a year.
The virus' impact slowed by late 2019 as pig numbers fell
and large producers learned to minimise its spread by removing
infected pigs from herds early, a process the industry calls
But an exceptionally cold winter, a higher density of pigs
following a year of restocking, and new strains of swine fever
triggered a fresh wave of outbreaks across the northeast,
northern China and Henan province, the country's third-biggest
hog producing province.
"At least 20% of the herd was affected, maybe even 25%" in
the northern and northeastern Chinese provinces because of
outbreaks during the first quarter, said Jan Cortenbach, chief
technical officer at feed maker Wellhope-De Heus Animal
Henan lost between 20% and 30% of its breeding sows, a
report by Founder Cifco Futures said on Monday, adding the
damage could be "irreversible".
Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Ltd said in a report
last month that sow stocks in northern China in March fell by
between 25% and 30% compared to February.
"This feels like 2018, 2019 all over again," said a
China-based manager with a company that supplies large hog
Several customers in northern China have lost thousands of
sows in recent months, he added, with some losing more than half
of their breeding stock.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not
respond to a fax seeking comment on a resurgence of the disease
and significant losses over the winter.
Food security is a sensitive issue in China and the
government has confirmed few African swine fever outbreaks since
the virus began spreading. Numerous industry insiders have
described the impact as worse than official data show. The
disease is not harmful to humans.
The agriculture ministry reported eight African swine fever
outbreaks in the first quarter, mostly on small farms or in pigs
in transit in southern China. It said the sow herd grew by 1.1%
in January versus December and a further 1% in February.
Shandong and Hebei provinces in northern China are both
among the country's top six pig producing provinces and the
first quarter outbreak was especially severe in Shandong,
Beijing Orient said.
New Hope Liuhe, China's fourth-largest hog
producer, told investors in March that African swine fever had a
large impact in Hebei and northern Shandong, where it has many
Though losses varied between companies, "in general it may
be more serious than in early 2019 when most companies did not
master prevention and control methods such as precise tooth
extraction," said Yan Zhichun, the company's chief science
officer, according to a transcript of a call with investors on
A considerable portion of New Hope's farms in Hebei and
Shandong were impacted by "atypical" swine fever strains, said
Yan. The firm had previously reported finding a less deadly, but
chronic form of swine fever on its farms.
It said its sow herd shrank 7.5% from December to February,
or by 90,000 pigs, because of African swine fever as well as the
elimination of inefficient sows.
The agriculture departments for Hebei, Shandong and Henan
provinces did not reply to questions sent by fax about the
resurgence of swine fever.
PIGLET PRICES RISE
While live hog prices fell sharply from January to March,
piglet prices are rising because of the hit to the breeding
herd, Changjiang Securities said in a note this week.
Piglets cost on average more than 1,800 yuan ($273.94) per
head, it said, not far off the record 2,356 yuan in February
2020, and significantly up from 995 yuan in November.
That will eventually translate to higher pork prices.
Producers in the south are on high alert, said industry
sources, after rain and floods were blamed for swine fever
outbreaks last year.
"With the arrival of the rainy season in the second quarter,
it is still unknown how swine fever will impact the south," said
the Changjiang analysts.
($1 = 6.5708 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Christian