Western states have not been immune to the effects of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus.
At present, producers and industry experts are busy determining the next step in light of the USDA issuing mandatory reporting of the virus on June 5, in addition to customizing ongoing national efforts to prevent further spread of the virus.
“Our biggest challenge now is providing producers with timely information about the disease as well as the requirements in reporting it. We believe in tinkering with suggested ways of dealing with PEDV at our state level to create a method of dealing with the virus that maximizes efficacy in that state’s unique situation, and have seen producers from various sectors of the industry work exceptionally well together in both Montana and Wyoming,” began Montana and Wyoming Pork Producers Council Executive Director Anne Miller, referring to the current situation in two western states, both of which have had confirmed cases of PEDV.
Prior to USDA’s implementation of mandatory reporting of the virus Montana began work on a voluntary, in-state reporting system in March to provide producers access to disease status updates in their area as well as to other producers from across the state.
In April, the program launched in partnership with the Montana Department of Livestock and assistance from the Veterinary Medical Center in Worthington, Minn.
“Our voluntary in-state program has been highly effective due to the small, tight-knit group of hog producers we see in Montana. While they are supportive of the state program, the one reservation they have regarding the national reporting program at this time has been the use of reported information. They are a little gun-shy over handing over personal and trade-sensitive information without the assurance that it will be handled with respect and privacy,” explained Miller, adding that some state residents were involved in the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency’s) information leak regarding the Clean Water Act in recent history, which only adds to their level of concern.
Miller added that aside from privacy concerns, mandatory reporting has distinct advantages in offering centralized resources and providing valuable information to researchers tracking how and when the disease is spread, noting she feels the voluntary and mandatory programs compliment one another.
One way the in-state program is working to reduce concerns is by requiring all people who sign up for a membership to sign a consent form stating they will not share information obtained from the membership for any use beyond personal herd health management.
Another challenge in reporting a PEDV case revolves around the “who,” and “how.” While the vast distance between hog operations in Montana and Wyoming are typically listed as a benefit to both state’s hog industries, it is also posing unique challenges in light of PEDV.
“One major advantage to our situation out west has always been our isolation factor. Our producers are rarely in close contact with surrounding barns, with a traditional distance being hundreds of miles. However, in the case of PEDV, that also means a vet would be traveling a large distance, and the closest lab to test for PEDV is potentially a considerable distance away, especially compared to where a producer in Iowa would send a samples,” she explained, adding that veterinarians and other necessary entities have been involved in recent discussions and are prepared to aid producers in the event a case needs reported.
She continued, explaining that producers can either report a case to a federal pork industry representative, a federal veterinarian or through the state Department of Livestock, who would then act as an intermediary for the state and federal levels.
“The other aspect going forward remains working to educate producers in biosecurity and barn management practices. Again, we are somewhat unique in the west, and our biosecurity measures need to be adapted accordingly.
“In Montana, the majority of our large hog producers are members of the Hutterite Colonies, which are anabaptist, religious groups that live communally. When you have 100 people living on the same location and all are involved in a highly diversified agriculture operation that might include dairy, sheep, poultry, beef and hogs, we have to ensure that both those directly involved in the hog operation and others who live and work within the colony understand and are involved in effective biosecurity practices,” explained Miller.
Comparatively, in Wyoming, the hog industry is primarily comprised of either large producers or companies with 1,000-plus sows, or single-family run show hog operations with less than 50 sows, resulting in different needs within a biosecurity plan.
“The most important thing from my perspective as someone involved in duel states is that how to effectively handle PEDV varies widely from state to state, and that each state or regional producer group needs to develop a personalized plan based on the available national information to effectively curb spread of the virus,” reiterated Miller.
Nationally, the National Pork Checkoff Summer 2014 Report stated that while exact numbers are unknown, it is believed that between seven and eight million pigs were lost to the virus between June 2013 and April 2014.
“If more than 50 percent of sows have indeed been infected (nationally), with pig losses of 2.7 to 3.0 per sow as widely established by producers dealing with the disease…hog slaughter could be down 10 percent from 2013 levels from July through September,” stated Steve Meyer, President of Paragon Economics and a Pork Checkoff consultant, in his contribution to the Pork Checkoff Report, titled “PEDV’s Impact: Now and Tomorrow.”
He further stated that higher finished weights will make up 3-4 percent of the reduction, but that he predicts tight supplies through the second half of 2014.
“I expect weekly slaughter to drop quickly after June 1 and national barrow and gilt prices to spend most of the summer in the mid-$120’s per cwt, carcass. For producers as a whole, add to higher revenue the fact that production costs are 10 to 15 percent lower this year, and it is easy to see that 2014 will likely be a year of record profitability for producers,” he said of the silver lining of the situation if there is one.
While warmer weather has resulted in fewer cases of the virus, potentially reducing 2014 fourth-quarter and 2015 first-quarter impacts, Meyer said what will ultimately happen is still unknown.
“PEDV’s impact depends on: 1) Whether an effective vaccine is developed, 2) The degree to which immunities persist in herds that have already dealt with the disease, and 3) How effectively producers apply management practices they have learned to prevent future outbreaks,” he noted.
Miller echoed his statement of the importance of producers applying known ways to control the disease, adding that she has been impressed with the way producers in both Montana and Wyoming have come together with a genuine interest in lessoning the impact to the highest degree possible for all hog operations in each state.
“We want to reduce the impact as much as possible going forward, as well as respect and assist the producers that have been affected by the virus. The financial toll of this is huge, but the emotional toll is something that has been even more challenging to deal with. We have seen wonderful cooperation and genuine concern from all sizes and types of producers for each other, which is a huge asset both today and going forward,” concluded Miller. ❖