Alberta pork producers are being warned to remain vigilant about a deadly pig virus, but may face another threat — falling prices if the U.S. herd rebounds from the PEDv crisis.
The province’s pork sector has been successful in keeping porcine epidemic diarrhea out of Alberta, but new cases in Manitoba in the past month means the threat remains high.
“There is no question that PEDv continues to move throughout the pig world in a very significant way,” swine veterinarian Dr. Egan Brockhoff said during Alberta Pork’s latest telephone town hall.
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“As winter comes along, and with the presence of more PED virus in the environment, we have to continue to be very diligent, especially with our transportation and biosecurity and the movement of pigs. I encourage you all to speak to your veterinarians so you can go into the fall with a great wall built around your farm.”
- From the Manitoba Co-operator: Cold, wet weather increases risk of PED virus
Keeping PEDv at bay has also been an economic boon for Canadian producers with healthy herds. The disease’s rampant march across the U.S. — there have been 8,500 cases in 31 states, with 50 new positive samples weekly — has sent pork prices soaring. But that may be coming to an end.
“Almost everyone expects lower prices compared to the crazy prices we saw last year in terms of record highs,” said Ron Gietz, pork specialist with Alberta Agriculture.
Prices are already 10 to 15 per cent off their peak, and many expect them to fall further. The latest Hogs and Pigs quarterly market report showed that the damage was not as bad as anticipated, and also indicated American herds will grow in 2015 as the breeding herd is up almost two per cent, said Gietz.
“This is the bigger picture, but that all remains to be seen, because we’re just entering the season when we see an uptake in the virus,” he said. “That’s evidenced by what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks in Manitoba. We’ll start to see more farms get it.”
That threat was emphasized during the telephone town hall. Producers were warned that initial symptoms in adult pigs are very subtle, and many producers fail to see the disease until the infection become virulent.
“A lot of producers have issues telling that little bit of loose stool they’re seeing is actually the disease starting up in a mature sow,” said Brockhoff.
At the time of the latest conference call, Alberta Pork had been monitoring PEDv for 37 weeks, collecting nearly 4,500 samples collected at truck washes, farms and assembly yards across Alberta. It has yet to find a positive sample.
But producers were warned that manure is also a concern, particularly at this time of year.
Research conducted at the University of Minnesota last year looked at the ability of the PED virus to persist in manure and found it survived longer in colder conditions. Samples of slurry containing PEDv were stored at 25 C, 4 C and -20 C, and at different levels of humidity. The virus lived for 14 days at room temperature but survived 28 days — the duration of the study — at the colder temperatures.
To date, there have been no cases of PEDv spread by manure application, but John Carney, executive director of the Manitoba Manure Management Initiative, warned producers to take extra precautions this fall.
“Manure applicators are responding to this challenge and have changed their operations,” he said. “Given the virulence of the PED virus, biosecurity has gone to a whole other level.”
That’s been happening south of the border, too, leading some to predict the U.S. outbreak has peaked. Gietz said he expects to see an upturn in herd numbers.
“As a result, they’ll be more pork production next year, as compared to the fairly low numbers this year,” he said.
“The price is very sensitive to the supply, so if we see an increase, it could be negative. But there is always a lot of other things going on.”
Still, Gietz expects demand for Canadian pigs to be strong and that 2015 will be a good year for pork producers.
“It’s not a situation where it is going to collapse. But a 10 to 15 (per cent) pullback from those record highs last year — that certainly seems like something like that is in the cards.”
But the situation remains in flux, and infection rates may soon rise again.
The virus doesn’t survive as long during dry, warm weather and that’s led to lower incident rates. In the U.S., the percentage of positive samples fell to an average of 9.5 between June and September versus 24.2 per cent from last November and May. Of the 63 cases in Ontario, 58 occurred from late January to the end of April. Only five cases were reported during the summer.