Reuters – On a 30-hectare (74-acre) plot of land in China’s Shandong province poultry hub, more than half a million white-feathered ducks are busy eating, chattering and laying eggs to produce cheap meat for thousands of factory canteens.
With birds already packed into around 60 open-sided buildings, farm owner Shenghe Group is expanding further, aiming to raise output by 30 per cent this year to capture record profits as a plunge in pig numbers shrinks production of pork, China’s favourite meat.
“The market prospects are very good now because of African swine fever,” said Shenghe chairman Wang Shuhong, whose firm sells about 300,000 ducklings a day for fattening and slaughter.
The deadly pig disease has already reduced China’s hog herd by more than a quarter, according to official data. As many as half of the country’s breeding sows are thought to have died or been slaughtered to cope with disease outbreaks.
Pork production will fall by 30 per cent or about 16 million tonnes, say analysts at Dutch lender Rabobank, pushing prices to new records and leaving a gaping hole in the country’s protein supply.
Higher pork prices — up about 35 per cent in a year — have already fuelled a surge in poultry meat demand. Chicken breast is about 20 per cent more expensive than a year ago, while duck breast has nearly trebled in price to 14,600 yuan (US$2,125) a tonne, according to Shenghe.
This is still only about half the cost of pork, but such prices are unheard of in China, where breast is typically the cheapest part of the bird.
About 80 per cent of the world’s ducks are raised in China, but are traditionally eaten in the south, where fried duck tongue, braised feet and spicy duck neck are popular snacks, and duck intestines make up a hotpot.
In recent years, however, more ducks have been processed for use by cost-conscious catering firms, supplying large canteens feeding schools, factories, businesses and the military.
These buyers are now switching as much pricey pork as they can to duck.
A procurement manager with a catering firm that supplies about 100 large clients around China said he has replaced about 20 to 30 per cent of the pork on menus with either chicken or duck meat. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“We may switch even more. But our concern is that the poultry price is now going up as well,” he said.
The price of day-old ducklings sold by farms like Shenghe has hovered around six yuan, three times the usual level, since July last year.
Prices eased last month as farmers held off restocking during hot summer weather, but are rising again and set to go higher, said Dong Xiaobo, China general manager for French genetics company Orvia, the No. 2 supplier of breeding ducks.