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Virus causes concern among farmers

PRINCETON — There’s a relatively new virus that’s creating devastating effects and has forced area pork producers to prepare action plans in case it reaches their farm.

It’s known as the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), and it’s wiping out every 14 day old or younger piglet it reaches.

PEDV is a coronavirus that infects the cells that line the small intestine of a pig, causing severe diarrhea and dehydration. The virus can kill young piglets within five days of contracting it.

The effects of the virus have not yet posed dangerous to humans or other animals, and is known solely to be a swine virus.

According to Dr. Lynn Keller of Wyoming, Ill., who specializes in swine studies, there are three strings of the virus. The first was witnessed in Europe in the 1970s and eventually disappeared. It then resurfaced in China a number of years ago and is still a common virus there today. The virus in China is very similar to the PEDV virus, Keller said. Many believe the PEDV was brought into the U.S. from China, but the how and when are still being debated.

The PEDV first appeared in the U.S. about a year ago. Keller reported most cases of the virus coming from areas that have large hog confinements, like in southern Minnesota, Iowa and western Illinois.

A Polo pork producer, Brian Duncan, recently reported to the Sauk Valley News that he had contracted the virus in March. He estimated to have lost between 1,000 and 1,200 piglets. While he is known to wean about 300 piglets a week, he was forced to go one month without weaning any little piglets. Older pigs fare better against the virus. When it hits older pigs, it’s more like a mild flu. With proper management, routine can return to normal in about for weeks.

Keller said the spreading of the virus is being blamed on the trucking of pig and feed transport. Minuscule amounts of the virus picked up from tires have the potential to spread throughout a confinement. Many farmers have taken extra biosecurity protocols, such as disinfecting truck tires and making truck drivers wear plastic, disposable gloves.

According to Keller, scientist are not yet having success with a vaccine to prevent PEDV. He believes it could be two years before a reliable vaccine is developed.

Steve Cowser, a Bradford pork producer, reported that his farm has so far been able to escape PEDV. However, his farm has established an action plan and they are being very diligent in following the high biosecurity protocols.

One effect that Cowser has witnessed, however, is the record high pork prices.

He said on March 18, the June Hog futures peaked at the price of $1.33 a pound. He said when he asked his broker what was influencing the marker he learned there was a perceived idea that there would be a shortage of pork due to PEDV.

Therefore, fund managers were buying hog futures to profit from the shortage, thinking that the price would rise due to the perceived shortage.

“My thoughts are that while I like to make a profit, I do not like the extreme prices that we are seeing now. I think most pork producers would be more satisfied with more reasonable prices,” he said. “If we are hedging properly we will not make any more money in the current situation. It just goes through our bank account and back to margin calls. All this due to a perceived shortage that will not be nearly as severe as perceived.”

Cowser’s advice to the consumer it to watch for sale promotions when buying food.

“The best cure for high prices is high prices. Things will eventually return to normal and food prices will become more reasonable,” he said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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