Fresh data from China’s state media indicates the world’s largest pork producer is recovering from multiple years of African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks. The news comes after the disease wiped out 40% of China’s hog herd in 2019.

Citing data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, state media said Wednesday China’s pig herd rose 23.5% in May from a year earlier. The report also showed the sow herd increased 19% year over year.

Xin Guochang, an official with the agricultural ministry’s Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau, told local media “We can now say with complete confidence that the original three-year mission for the restoration of pig production has been completed ahead of schedule.”

While the news shows China is making progress and bouncing back from the impacts of ASF, Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes says it’s happening months after China originally said the country’s hog herd was recovering from ASF.

“What I watch is the price of piglets, and they’re down, and the Chinese futures markets, which was way high until a couple of weeks ago, is now down, too,” says Hayes. “So, that suggests to me that they are making progress. But that’s progress that’s coming nine months after they claimed they are making progress.”

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reported last week pig prices have dropped more than 50% since the beginning of the year. The report said the drop is due to sluggish demand and pandemic selling amid new ASF outbreaks. The report said those issues are causing Chinese producers to hold onto their herds longer.

The conflicting data and reports are another source of contention among U.S. analysts and economists. China has shut down many traditional sources of data in the country, which is a move Christine McCracken, senior analyst, animal protein, for RaboResearch thinks is by design.

“Part of the challenge right now is some of the traditional sources that we’ve used are no longer available,” she says. “China really has clamped down on a lot of those traditional sources. And as a result, the flow of information is obviously slow. And you don’t necessarily have the same confidence in that data, maybe, that you used to have.”

As reliable and consistent data out of China is more like a black hole today, there are indicators U.S analysts continue to watch in order to try to cut through the confusion and get a handle on what’s really going on there.

“What I can tell you about China is that it continues to be very volatile,” says McCracken. “Prices, as reported, are down some 50-plus percent. And actually now, most of those producers there are operating below breakeven. So, it is a bit of a struggle to piece it all together, especially with less reliable data.”

Hayes points out China’s move to clamp down on its real-time data allowed the country to buy U.S. corn at a bargain price.

“China bought almost a billion bushels of corn from us at a relatively low price, or prices much lower than we would have sold it to them if we knew that they were going to buy a billion bushels. So, it’s playing to their advantage and our disadvantage,” he says.

Farm Journal’s pork | Tyne Morgan | June 16,