Pork producers blasted by new virus, PEDv

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SALEM, Ohio — Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, continue to slam U.S. pork producers, including Ohio farmers.

PEDv (link opens .pdf) is a virus of swine that is fatal to nearly 100 percent of infected piglets that are less than 2 weeks old. There is no vaccination or treatment for the disease, which poses no threat to human health or food safety.

According to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, PEDV has surfaced in 27 states, with 274 new cases reported in the first week of March alone.

Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics and a Pork Checkoff consultant, estimates the loss of more than 5 million piglets in the past several months, with 1.3 million lost in January alone.

The virus also sickens older hogs, though their survival rate tends to be high.

The virus has occurred in Europe and Asia, but last spring was the first instance of PEDv in the United States.

Market reaction

Tighter pork supplies due to PEDv may boost total revenue in the industry and more than offset the losses from the disease.

Uncertainty surrounding total swine herd losses to porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has sent lean hog futures for spring and summer contracts to record-high levels, but it’s possible the markets have overreacted, a Purdue Extension agricultural economist says.

While PEDv can be devastating to individual swine herds, Chris Hurt said it remains to be seen whether slaughter supplies will fall enough to warrant the $10 to $14 per-hundredweight surge in spring and summer futures prices over the past two weeks.

“So far this year, the number of animals coming to market has been very close to the numbers indicated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s December Hogs and Pigs report,” he wrote in a weekly outlook report.

“When adjusted for the number of slaughter days compared to last year, the slaughter count so far is down 0.5 percent. However, market weights have been higher by about 2.5 percent, thus causing total pork production to be up by about 2 percent.”

$112 average?

According to Hurt, the futures market suggests that lean hog prices could average about $112 per hundredweight for the period of March through August. This compares with an average of $88 per hundredweight for the same time period last year.

If fear of low slaughter supply is the cause of the price jump, Hurt said it means traders expect hog slaughter supplies could be down by as much as 7-10 percent.

Third-quarter supplies will come primarily from winter farrowings, which is where the most uncertainty comes into play.

“Winter farrowing intentions were up 1.3 percent, but since PEDv kills baby pigs and is most prevalent in cold months, the number of pigs weaned per litter could be down sharply,” Hurt said. “This is where no one knows for sure.”

Overall impact

The biggest question, Hurt said, is how PEDv will affect the financial well-being of the pork industry as a whole this year.

“The initial answer might be somewhat surprising,” he said. “PEDv will likely increase economic returns for the U.S. industry.”

Demand for pork tends to hold fairly steady, and consumers are slow to reduce their pork use even in short supply situations.

And, according to Hurt, hog prices tend to increase by at least 2 percent for every 1 percent that the quantity drops.

“This means that total revenue in the industry will likely increase due to PEDv and more than offset the losses from the disease,” he said.

Bad news for many, though

The outcome for individual hog producers won’t necessarily mirror that of the overall industry.

Producers with herds severely affected by PEDv with more piglet deaths than the national average, could end up with net financial losses, Hurt said.

High hog prices could offset pig losses for producers with an average number of piglet deaths.

“At the farm level, current futures markets are suggesting a live price for 2014 at a record high of $76 per hundredweight compared with $64 last year. This will provide record-high industry revenues and the highest profit per head since 2005.”

New research

The National Pork Board recently announced additional funds for research in the fight against the further spread of PEDv.

The funds include $650,000 through supplemental funding approved by the Pork Checkoff and $500,000 through a new agreement with Genome Alberta.

Additionally, the Pork Checkoff announced a new collaboration of swine, feed and veterinary groups to bring an even higher level of collaboration in the fight against the disease.

Part of the checkoff’s supplemental funding of $650,000 will be used for feed-related research to better understand the potential role feed may play in PEDV transmission. Also, a portion of the funding will be used to identify ways to increase sow immunity and to better understand transmission and biosecurity risks.

This brings the current level of checkoff-funded research to approximately $1.7 million since June 2013.

Seeking disaster aid

U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan , D-N.C., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, are urging U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to approve disaster assistance for small pork producers affected by a deadly virus that is hitting pig farms across the country.

The 2014 farm bill, signed into law last month, permanently extends critical livestock disaster assistance programs that could help producers in North Carolina, Michigan and 24 other states cope with the virus and manage the spread of the disease.

“If this disease persists, pork herds will continue to diminish and producers risk going out of business,” the senators wrote in a letter to Vilsack.

Additionally, the Senators asked the USDA to increase research for a vaccine and other interventions to address PEDv.

New PEDv strain could lead to vaccine

A new coronavirus was detected in pig fecal samples from four swine farms in Ohio last month.

The new virus has been designated as Swine DeltaCoronavirus (SDCV), similar to that of PED and transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE)

Researchers at the Ohio Department of Agriculture say the scientific breakthrough could help pork producers nationwide fight PEDv.

Genetic sequencing of the new PED strain conducted by ODA’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory may lead to a marketable swine vaccine.

Led by virologist Dr. Yan Zhang, ODA scientists worked to complete genetic sequencing of the new PED virus that differs in a fragment of one gene encoding a surface protein.

The rest of the genome sequence is identical to the PED virus currently circulating in the U.S.

The new virus strain is associated with reduced mortality in piglets, based on the field observation, which may enhance its use as a potential vaccine.

This discovery will lay the groundwork for producing a vaccine to immunize swine against PED. In a swine herd, the vaccine would be orally given to a sow, which would then pass on the immunization to its piglets through nursing.

The Ohio lab offers PCR tests that can detect all three of these coronaviruses (PED, TGE and SDCV). Contact the ODA lab at 614-728-6220 or visit www.ohioagriculture.gov/addl/.

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