General

Optimism Rising in BC Hog Industry Despite Ongoing Challenges

words: Grant Ullyot

BC hog producers are keeping a wary eye open for any sign that the virus (porcine epidemic diarrhea or PED) has infected pigs in BC. The virus, which spread from China in 2013, has invaded over 30 states in America, killing over 7 million pigs. PED has been detected on 65 farm sites in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island.

According to Tom Droppo, the hog industry specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, the disease is transferred mainly by feces contamination on transport vehicles, and on clothing and boots worn by people who handle an infected animal.

Infected pigs will get a severe case of diarrhea and lose weight rapidly. Mortality rates in newborn piglets up to 8-10 weeks of age typically run from 90 to 100 per cent.

BC producers have developed a surveillance program intended to keep close contact with any producer on high alert. If the signs of the virus (diarrhea) occur, producers are advised to immediately contact their veterinarian and have samples collected and analyzed to determine the cause. In multiple barns on a farm site it is possible to isolate an infected barn from animals in uninfected barns by applying high levels of biosecurity protection.

Once a barn is infected, pigs have to be managed to raise them to market weight and empty the barn. Then the barn can be properly cleaned and disinfected. This is a very costly and time-consuming process but absolutely necessary in order to prevent the next group of pigs from being infected.

Meanwhile, Provincial and Federal governments have jointly provided the BC hog industry with $613,050 to pay for increased surveillance and preventive measures to keep the virus from spreading into BC. The BC Pork Producers Association (BCPPA) will use the funding to implement enhanced bio-security for transport trucks, slaughter plant traffic and animal handling. BC’s two processing plants and 21 hog farms will receive funding to support and develop responses and containment plans should the virus be found in BC.

Federal Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, emphasized the importance of a strong bio-security program. “Vigilance towards PED is key to reducing its impact on the Canadian agriculture sector and on Canada’s economy as a whole. The money allocated to the BC hog industry should provide it with the tools and resources it needs to support producers and processors in improving their biosecurity.”

Consumers will be pleased to learn that the hog industry will introduce federal traceability legislation in July 2014, which will allow for rapid trace back of pork products if a health or quality problem is discovered.

The industry has a lot of catch-up to do, says Droppo. While producers are now enjoying positive profit margins, he adds that the bulk of it has to be re-invested in machinery, equipment, and facility repairs and/or replacement, which have been allowed to go unattended through many years of heavy losses due to low market prices and high feed costs. The hog industry generates about $28 million in annual farm cash receipts (FCR) for BC and when the multiplier effect on feed suppliers, equipment, construction, trucking, pharmaceutical, and processing industries is factored in, the value of the pork sector to the BC economy runs many times greater than the $28 million in annual FCR.

The industry has also contracted for services to determine what niche markets the industry can exploit. While niche markets cost more to develop they command a premium price for the products and this results in increased revenues for producers.

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