JOPLIN, Mo. —
Hog farms across Missouri have been struck by porcine epidemic diarrhea, a fast-spreading virus that can kill 80 percent of piglets that contract it. In some cases, entire nurseries containing thousands of piglets have been wiped out overnight.
“We had our first initial case in December in northern Missouri,” said Marcia Shannon, a swine nutrition specialist with the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Since then, there has been an explosion of it, especially in the first two weeks of February. I would consider it widespread now, especially north of Interstate 70.”
About 3,000 farms in Missouri have pigs on them, she said. Any size farm is susceptible, not just industrial hog farms.
Nationwide, 4 million to 5 million pigs have been lost. That represents about 4 percent of the pigs that would go to market later this year. The United States, on average, slaughters about 113 million pigs annually.
“That’s when we will feel the impact, when those pigs would have been marketed,” she said. “We will feel the impact in our pocketbooks with higher prices.”
Market watchers are forecasting a jump in cash hog prices later this year.
Shannon said people who live near industrial hog farms, such as those in Barton County where piglet deaths have been reported, should not be concerned about the virus. There is no evidence that PED can be transmitted to humans.
“The virus does not pose a food safety risk. Humans are not going to get it,” she said.
Synergy, an Iowa-based company, supplies hogs to a company based in Lamar that produces 200,000 hogs for slaughter annually. Calls to the company’s office in Lamar for comment about how PED is affecting its operations were not returned.
PED is believed to have originated in Europe in the 1970s. It remains uncontrolled in China and other parts of Asia. Appearing in the United States last spring, the epidemic has spread to more than 27 states.
“For a producer who is hit by PED, it can be pretty serious,” Shannon said. “If you have 400 litters with 10 pigs in a litter, that’s 4,000 piglets that have been lost. It’s devastating to those individuals.”
Don Nikodim, head of the Missouri Pork Association, said, “It certainly has been devastating for the producers who have experienced this. For them, it’s been really unfortunate.
“Enhanced biosecurity measures have had a positive impact, but there still has been a considerable baby pig loss. The producers are working through it.”
Missouri’s pork industry employs more than 25,000 people, including those in feed, processing, transportation and packing, he said.
Nikodim concurred that there will be fewer pigs in the market chain by this summer and that prices will rise as demand for meat worldwide continues to grow.
University of Missouri livestock economist Ron Plain said, “We’re adding 300 farms per week to the list of infected farms. I think most all will wind up with the disease.
“The average slaughter age is 6 months. So we will see the impact of this in six months. We do know it has impacted the futures market for hog contracts. We’re at record levels now.”
At this time last year, the peak hog price was $100 per 100 pounds of carcass, which is 75 percent of the live weight. Plain said the futures market last week was $117.90 per 100 pounds.
The piglets are usually less than 3 weeks old when most vulnerable to the disease. Most die within 72 hours from dehydration associated with diarrhea. Piglets older than that survive, but they are slowed down in terms of growth. The dead piglets, which weigh about 2 pounds each, are composted in mass graves.