China is breeding giant pigs the size of polar bears to cope with supply plunge after African swine fever

A student feeds pigs at a farm next to a primary school in Xuanwei, Yunnan province, China, on Dec 22, 2018.
A student feeds pigs at a farm next to a primary school in Xuanwei, Yunnan province, China, on Dec 22, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - In a farm deep in the southern region of China lives a very big pig that is as heavy as a polar bear.

The 500kg animal is part of a herd that is being bred to become giant swine. At slaughter, some of the pigs can sell for more than 10,000 yuan (S$1,900), over three times higher than the average monthly disposable income in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province where Mr Pang Cong, the farm's owner, lives.

While Mr Pang's pigs may be an extreme example of the lengths that farmers are going to fill China's swelling pork shortage problem, the idea that bigger is better has been spreading across the country, home to the world's most voracious consumers of the meat.

High pork prices in the north-eastern province of Jilin is prompting farmers to raise pigs to reach an average weight of 175kg to 200kg, higher than the normal weight of 125kg.

They want to raise them "as big as possible", said Mr Zhao Hailin, a hog farmer in the region.

The trend is not limited to small farms either. Major protein producers in China, including Wens Foodstuffs Group, the country's top pig breeder, Cofco Meat Holdings and Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group say they are trying to increase the average weight of their pigs. Big farms are focusing on boosting the heft by at least 14 per cent, said Mr Lin Guofa, a senior analyst with consulting firm Bric Agriculture Group.

The average weight of pigs at slaughter at some large-scale farms has climbed to as much as 140kg, compared with about 110kg normally, Mr Lin said. That could boost profits by more than 30 per cent, he said.

The large swine are being bred during a desperate time for China.

 
 
 

With African swine fever decimating the nation's hog herd - in half, by some estimates - prices of pork have soared to record levels, leading the government to urge farmers to boost production to temper inflation.

Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua warned that the supply situation will be extremely severe through to the first half of 2020. China will face a pork shortage of 10 million tonnes this year, more than what is available in global trade, meaning it needs to increase production domestically, Mr Hu said.

During a recent visit to major livestock provinces of Shandong, Hebei and Henan, Mr Hu urged local governments to resume pig production as soon possible, with a target of returning to normal levels next year.

Still, many farmers are wary about restocking swine after being hurt by an earlier outbreak. Also, piglet and breeding sow prices have surged, making it more expensive for backyard farms to rebuild their herds. Increasing the size of pigs they already own may be the next best step.