China’s African swine fever outbreak set to hit US farmers

US farmers, already feeling the impact of man-made problems in the form of political tensions with China, are about to face a natural challenge, with the effects of the African swine fever that is decimating China’s pig herds.

The ASF outbreak has led to a cull of more than 1m pigs, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. Since August, when China reported the outbreak, the disease has spread across the country and beyond its borders. Sow and hog inventories have fallen 21 per cent and 18.8 per cent respectively, compared with the same month in 2018, according to Chinese agricultural ministry data cited by US Department of Agriculture officials in Beijing. “The sow inventory decline is the largest in the past 10 years,” said USDA officials.

The impact for US farmers is likely to be significant. The sharp decline in pig inventories is set to bring an abrupt halt to the continuous rise in China’s feed imports over the past two decades, especially of soyabeans. Dairy exporters, who sell whey powder to China for piglet feed, might also be hit.

On the other hand, the outbreak might offer opportunity to pork producers in the US, Europe and Brazil. “It is a rare combination of events that presents pig producers with higher prices, higher export volumes and lower feed prices,” said the FAO. Leading poultry exporters Brazil, the US and Thailand could also benefit from the ASF outbreak as China turns to alternative protein sources.

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