The USDA said the breeding inventory of sows and boars stands at 5.79 million head, down slightly from last year and off 1 percent from the previous quarter.
Such liquidations could mean a temporary glut of pork on the U.S. market, depressing pork prices before the oversupply eases and the volume of pork drops again next year, causing hog prices to rebound, said Ron Plain, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Consequently, he estimates, the higher costs will be passed along to consumers, who could end up paying 10 percent more for their bacon.
As of Friday, the USDA said, a pound of sliced bacon cost an average of $4.05 at the nation's supermarkets, down 22 cents from a week earlier.
Pig producer Phil Borgic is banking on high prices. With 3,400 sows near Nokomis in central Illinois, Borgic figures he's had to spend $2 million more this year for the 600,000 bushels of corn he feeds his pigs.
Rather than sell off animals on the spot market, the 56-year-old farmer is hedging his bets by contracting them out for slaughter over a staggered period — what he sees only as a break-even proposition.
"The previous couple of years have been good to us," he said. "Then the drought changed the ballgame on a worldwide level."
He waves off the concerns about consumers facing shortages.
"The U.S. has plenty of pork, and we won't run out here," he said. "We'll have some price inflation, but we have plenty of supply."