When it comes to preparing for a foreign animal disease, hope is not a plan, says Marguerite Tan, director of environmental programs for the National Pork Board. In fact, an FAD plan involves a five-step process before any pork production site will be allowed to return to business by their state veterinarian, and two crucial steps in that plan need to be depopulation and disposal.
"The faster we can get through those two steps, the faster your state veterinarian can get you back into business. We need to come up with a depopulation and disposal plan that will work at your own facilities to help your veterinarian," Tan says. "Figure out what works for your facility. Put that plan in your back pocket. That way, if there is a foreign animal disease, you can pull that plan out of your back pocket and say, 'Hey, I have this plan' and it will expedite this whole process significantly."
The commonly utilized on-farm disposal methods include:
- Deep pit burial
- Whole carcass composting
- Ground carcass composting
- Shallow burial with carbon (above ground burial)
"Each of them has strengths and each of them has weaknesses. This is not a one-size-fits-all shop. You will have to go through each of these and determine what will work for your facility, going back to what works for your facility might not work for your neighbor's facility," Tan says. "The initial three things you need to think about when you're thinking about disposal, is the equipment, inputs and time."
For example, incineration requires a specialized piece of equipment, that would need to be installed on site before an emergency, while deep pit burial would require only one piece of equipment – a backhoe.
While ground carcass composting is a fast way to be able to dispose of carcasses, Tan says the bad news is it requires a very large grinder which would require an oversized load permit to get from point A to point B.
For inputs, incineration requires a lot of fuel, something that is very expensive in today's economic climate. Whole carcass composting, ground carcass composting and shallow burial all require carbon, in the form of wood shavings or wood chips, or potentially corn stocks.
"High quality carbon is preferred as it cooks better," Tan says. "To give you an example of the carbon needs for whole carcass composting, if I have a 1,000-head barn that's a finishing unit and those animals are close to market size, or they are market size, I am looking at needing 30 semi loads of carbon to be able to correctly compost those animals."
For shallow burial, that same 1,000-head barn, would still need 10 semi loads of carbon.
"You can start to see where just the carbon needs alone can be very challenging, depending on where you're located," Tan says. "If you're located in a state that's carbon poor, being able to obtain that amount of carbon can be very problematic."
The next issue is where the carbon will be used on farm. Is there extra land space for composting or will you be taking up valuable farmland on site for two to three months? Also, what works for daily mortalities may not be of sufficient size to handle the quantity needed during an FAD event, Tan says.
Other considerations for disposal are virus activation and available real estate distance to groundwater. For deep pit burial, one of the main challenges with it is virus activation time, which can be very uncertain depending on ground conditions, Tan says.
"It may occur quickly. It may not occur quickly. It's a big question mark," Tan says. "It [deep pit burial] doesn't take a lot of real estate compared to some of the other methods, but distance to groundwater is the elephant in the room. If you have a high-water table, mark deep pit burial off your list right now, it's not going to work for you."
To see which soil types work with different types of disposal, Tan says producers should reference the National Resource Conservation Service soil survey tool.
Well and surface water locations are going to be important to look at no matter what disposal method is chosen, she says. Topography also needs to be considered, as well as state regulations.
"Some states you're allowed to bury, some states you're not allowed to bury, and some states are saying, 'hey, you can bury, but you can only bury a certain number of pounds per acre,'" Tan says. "The states that allow you to only bury a certain number of pounds per acre can be problematic for animal disease disposal planning."
Finally, she says depending on the state, there are often deed restrictions regarding burial.
"You have to record that on the deed for your property, which means that particular red flag will show up in perpetuity on that deed for that property," Tan says.
There are advantages and disadvantages to all five disposal methods, however Tan says it's important for producers to find the one that works best for their site.
"Some of these disposal options will work for your facility, some of them will not work for your facility," Tan says. "Once you've paired down your disposal options, to say one or two or even three disposal options are okay, that's the time to sit down with your state department of environmental quality and go through those disposal options with them just in case."
While there are only five on-farm disposal methods currently approved, Tan says NPB recognizes the need for more methods, launching its first-ever innovation challenge that deals with the potential need of mass carcass disposal this year. The challenge is seeking new and innovative methods of pig mortality disposal that go beyond the existing methods of burial, incineration, composting and landfills to provide pig farmers with more options.
Those who successfully submit ideas through the challenge's four tiers receive increasing monetary awards, meaning top innovators could receive up to $46,000. NPB will accept entries through July.
"If you have a disposal option that's in your head, that might be a great idea, please enter it into this challenge. We need more innovators," Tan says. "We need more disposal methods, and we think the best people to come up with those brilliant disposal methods are pig farmers, themselves who have experience, determining and figuring out how we can dispose of pigs."