Production cycle might not bottom until late next year Accurate forecasts have become rare in the pig sector, but MAFF's latest census results show the MLC economists were right in predicting herd contraction would continue long after the onset of price recovery and the pork production cycle might not bottom out until well into 2001. It is just about possible to detect in these figures a slowing rate of breeding herd shrinkage. Sow numbers were down 9% year-on-year at the June 1 census date, and had fallen 6% since November. But the November tally was misleadingly high. Current sow slaughter estimates from the Ministry give the same impression, showing the cull rate about 20% lower than the kill in late summer last year. MLC analysts' assessment of the census data is as confirmation of their earlier prediction clean pig slaughterings would fall again next year, though by only 2% after the 11% slump almost certain in the current year. This message has been drowned out by the clamour from producers for government aid to cope with the swine fever crisis. Although there is no doubt the movement restrictions imposed to prevent the disease spreading have caused a build-up of stock on farms and created a need for an emergency slaughter scheme (with an official announcement expected as The Grocer went to press) the underlying market reality is a shortage sure to get worse. As for prices, a wobble was visible early in the week at auction sales, but the deadweight contract trend appears still to be upward or at best flat. {{MEAT }}