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New USDA Program Tracks Influenza Virus in Swine

USDA’s new influenza virus swine surveillance program tracks samples anonymously.

The National Pork Board is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal Centers for Disease Control, the National Pork Producers Council, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians to track the changes in influenza viruses in pigs.

It is the first time that the USDA has become involved in an ongoing, non-program disease surveillance in pigs. USDA is collecting the data, but producers don’t have to worry about market restrictions due to government regulations.

“There are clear animal health and human health benefits to knowing about the status of influenza viruses out in the country,” reports Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president for Science and Technology for the Pork Board.

“Right now we have commercial swine flu vaccines that are ‘one size fits all.’ The surveillance data being collected is going to give those (vaccine) companies information to be able to better target their products to producers,” he says.

Currently, no organized information exists as to the number of different types of influenza in pigs, which might limit the ability of state diagnostic laboratories in tracking flu viruses.

“The reason that it could be difficult to find flu viruses, human and animal alike, is because we don’t have the diagnostic reagent or test for all of the specific viruses,” Sundberg says.

“If we find there is a wide variety of flu viruses out there, but the reagents are only reacting to some of them, we can tailor more reagents to detect those others, so we can do a better job of diagnostics,” he comments.

Sundberg stresses this joint surveillance effort is about tracking all influenza viruses in swine, including swine influenza virus (SIV), and not about the pandemic strain of H1N1 influenza virus that caused such an uproar in 2009.

The pandemic strain of the flu virus sickened and killed numerous people around the globe. To determine if pork could play any role in infecting humans, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Ames, IA, conducted research that showed no danger to humans or their food supply.

But unwarranted fears led to a quarantine of a Canadian hog operation, and placed U.S. hog producers on the defensive, for fear of restrictions on marketing options, according to Sundberg.

Flu Surveillance

When USDA wanted to conduct surveillance of swine herds in 2009 to determine the level of prevalence of the pandemic H1N1 strain, producers decided to ignore that request.

Sundberg emphasizes that things are different with this surveillance program that looks anonymously for influenza viruses of swine and not specifically for H1N1.
“The thing that producers and veterinarians have told us consistently is as long as the surveillance is anonymous, to go ahead and run it in the background, because we don’t even need to know about it,” he relates.

“This anonymous program means that the influenza viruses that will go into the database will be identified only to the state. There will be no information that could link the virus to a producer or to his herd,” Sundberg explains.

Three Surveillance Tracks

Surveillance data on influenza viruses identified in swine is being collected in the form of tissue samples, nasal swabs and oral fluids via three primary tracks. Most submissions will come from state diagnostic labs. Some will be collected from livestock exhibitions and first points of livestock concentration.

The third track of surveillance is human flu infections that are linked to pigs. The concern is if a producer who raises pigs gets sick, the flu virus might be associated epidemiologically with his swine herd. The producer would have to give permission before his pigs could be tested to see if they have the same virus as the one that made him sick, Sundberg clarifies.

Learning about Flu

“The main reason we still struggle with swine flu is because we don’t know the specific viruses affecting different geographic areas, and we don’t have effective tools to stop it,” Sundberg says. “This (surveillance program) will help us understand and know more about biosecurity steps, vaccines and vaccination programs.”

The sampling program is running nationwide with the cooperation of the diagnostic labs and USDA’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network. It is funded solely by USDA, including coverage of all laboratory costs.

Sundberg foresees the success of this surveillance effort could enhance all disease surveillance to include other non-program disease pathogens important to herd health.

Time to Exhale

Mid-term elections couldn’t come soon enough for me.

The seemingly never-ending onslaught of don’t-trust-my-rascal-opponent ads was beginning to wear pretty thin. Thankfully, the multi-media blitzes have faded away, hopefully not to be heard from again for at least another year or so.

Take a deep breath and exhale. Ahhh! That feels better.

Okay, now it’s time to get back to work.

Perhaps at no other time in U.S. history has agriculture had so much at stake. Regardless of whether your candidates won or lost, party politics must be set aside to address the real work that lies ahead.

Ag Issues Abound

About the time this issue of National Hog Farmer reaches your mailbox, the sitting Congress will be back in Washington to address the 2011 appropriations bills, Bush administration’s tax cuts, inheritance tax, ethanol blender’s and biodiesel tax credits, tariff on imported ethanol, Food & Drug Administration (FDA) food safety reform and child nutrition reauthorization.

The election’s outcome will likely determine how many of these items will be tackled before year’s end and how many will spill into the laps of the newly elected men and women of Congress — some of them rookies.

Here’s a short list of impending agricultural initiatives facing Congress after the mid-term elections:

  • Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rule;
  • Antibiotic regulation;
  • Clean Water Act;
  • Clean Air Act/air emissions;
  • Food safety;
  • Ethanol policies;
  • 2012 farm bill.

I placed the proposed GIPSA rule at the top of the heap for a reason — it is perhaps the most contentious, livestock-centered issue agriculture has faced in many years; its impact could potentially reshape the U.S. poultry and livestock industries.

Over 100 congressmen from both major parties felt so strongly about the GIPSA rule that they filed a bipartisan letter of concern with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak, calling on USDA’s chief economist to provide a comprehensive economic analysis of the proposed rule. In addition, many feel the proposed rule reaches way beyond the direction provided in the 2008 farm bill. The non-partisan group stressed that the proposed rule does not fully assess the need for the rule, the impact it will have on the marketplace, nor how the rule will be enacted.

What irked members of the House and Senate agriculture committees most was that the proposed rule contains many elements and wording that were thoroughly discussed and eliminated by Congress when the 2008 farm bill was written.

Some described the proposed
rule as “a clear invasion of the government into the private marketplace,” a tendency that seems all too common in Washington these days.

Keep an Eye on EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also seems primed to add more regulations and initiatives on U.S. agriculture. In the Senate, members of both parties have raised concerns about the agency’s focus on air emissions, dust, greenhouse gases, settling Clean Water Act lawsuits, phosphorus standards in water, ethanol use and more.

Former agriculture secretary and Republican Senator from Nebraska Mike Johanns describes the non-stop regulatory assaults on agriculture as excessive. His colleague, Blanche Lincoln, Democrat from Arkansas and chair of the Senate Ag Committee echoed those concerns, noting the EPA is not setting achievable goals for farmers, nor providing the tools and resources needed for compliance. Similar concerns have been filed by members of the House of Representatives.

A Messy Business

Politics is a messy business, but it cannot be ignored. Doing so would surely impact how you raise and care for your hogs, where you market them.

In a way, it reminds me of the
civics classes we had in high school, which were essentially meant to reinforce our civic duty — the privileges and obligations the citizens of a democratic society share.

Casting a ballot on Nov. 2 was an important step. The next steps should lead you toward a greater understanding of the laws and regulations coming out of our nation’s Capitol, filing your opinions and concerns with those who represent you today. Their campaign pledges promised to represent you in good conscience. Hold them to that pledge. Never underestimate the importance of sharing your thoughts, filing your concerns, and providing solid information that can help your representatives understand how their actions affect your pork enterprise.

Sow Foot Lesions May Increase Piglet Mortalities

Preweaning mortalities represent a significant economic loss to the U.S. swine sector. PigChamp preweaning mortality records show U.S. sow herds averaged 12.2% in the first quarter of 2009.

It is widely accepted that the injury and crushing incidents causing these piglet deaths occur when the sow attempts to lie down within the confines of the farrowing crate. Researchers at the University of Minnesota wondered what role claw (foot) lesions played in these losses.

“Claw lesions are generally believed to be painful,” explains research team member Leena Anil. Logically, painful foot lesions could restrict the sows’ agility and lead to more crushed and injured piglets.

“The front legs are nearer the center of gravity,” she adds, noting that as a sow attempts to lie down, more movements are associated with their front legs than their back legs.

To learn more, Anil and her colleagues, Sam Baidoo, John Deen and S.S.Anil, developed a study to analyze the association of preweaning piglet deaths due to crushing with factors such as claw lesions, sow parity and the effects of housing during gestation. Their study included 611 parity records of sows housed in group pens with electronic sow feeders (ESF) and 399 parity records of sows housed in conventional gestation stalls.

The study was conducted at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, MN, where foot lesions were examined at mid-gestation using a mechanical restraint designed for that purpose. Total claw lesion scores for front and hind limbs were obtained by adding the lesions scores in different claw areas — side wall, heel, sole, heel-sole junction and white line — of the lateral and medial claws (see diagrams, pages 20-21).

Barn staff recorded the reasons for preweaning mortalities, sow parity and gestation housing in the PigChamp database. This information was used to associate piglet mortalities due to crushing with claw lesion scores (front and hind feet), sow parity and gestation housing. Sow records were grouped as Parity 1-2, Parity 3-5, and Parity 6 and higher.

In the study, 24% of preweaning mortalities were reportedly due to crushing. “For every unit increase in claw lesions in front limbs, the number of preweaning piglet death due to crushing increased by 8%,” Anil reports. “A higher hind limb claw lesion score was also associated with the higher number of piglet deaths due to crushing, though this association was not significant.”

Parity 1-2 sows had 61% lower death loss due to crushing than Parity 6 and higher sows, while Parity 3-5 sows had a 36% lower crushing rate than the older-parity sows.

“Sows housed in group pens had 39% fewer piglet deaths due to crushing compared to sows housed in stalls during gestation,” she adds.

Fewer piglet deaths in lower-parity sows could be related to the smaller litter size during these early parities; however, the positive association between front limb lesions and higher death rates caused by crushing is interesting, Anil notes. “This may be suggestive of restriction due to pain in making the necessary postural movements to avoid uncontrolled falling within the farrowing crate, thus leading to a higher number of pigs being crushed,” she notes.

Assessing Foot Health in Sows

Assessing Foot Health in Sows

Healthy feet serve as the sturdy base on which sow productivity is built, according to experts speaking at the Feet First Sow Lameness Symposium II in Minneapolis, MN. And not all foot-related problems are readily apparent.

Surveys conducted by Iowa State University (ISU) have shown that more than 84% of sows have at least one claw lesion, and their causes vary.

Research at the University of Minnesota has shown that for every unit increase in claw lesion scores in sows’ front limbs, the number of preweaning crushing deaths increases by 8%. “If there is evidence of a problem on the sow cards, there probably is some biology behind it,” explains John Deen, DVM, professor of veterinary epidemiology at the university. “Look at the sows, not just the sow cards, to assess welfare and functionality,” he urges.

Costs of Lameness

Deen developed an economic analysis tool for Zinpro, sponsor of the Feet First Symposium, to help estimate the cost of lameness in sow herds. The tool considers the costs associated directly with the sow, such as culling, increased care costs and the cost of replacement, as well as the costs related to higher preweaning mortality and lower litter quality. He estimates lame sows can cost producers from $181 to $422 for each sow diagnosed with a foot-related problem.

Lameness is associated with decreased sow fertility. A recent German study reported lame sows had fewer than three litters prior to exiting the herd, compared to non-lame sows that averaged around 4.5 litters. Not only are the lame sows having fewer litters, but they also have smaller litters and fewer pigs born alive, according to Mark Wilson, Zinpro reproductive physiologist. Wilson says not all claw lesions lead to lameness, and some lameness problems cannot be traced to lesions. Rather, lameness may be an indicator of problems in the upper leg, such as osteochondrosis or osteoarthritis.

“The lesions of greatest concern are those that penetrate the horn wall into the corium of the foot (side view) and cause an inflammatory response, such as sidewall cracks of the outer horn wall or white line lesions,” Wilson says. Inflammation is often accompanied by pain and is one of the most apparent consequences of lameness. Many times lame sows are thin and have poor body condition. Sows with chronic lameness frequently have decreased feed intake, which tends to impact reproductive performance. Inflammation also causes changes within the body, disrupting how nutrients are utilized and even impacting ovulation, he adds.

Causes of Lameness

Lameness can be caused by nutritional problems, management, and environmental and genetic factors. Flooring type and housing (stalls vs. groups) make a difference. Rough, concrete slats can damage hooves and tear off dew claws or horn wall capsules, for example.

Deen says fighting sows may tend to suffer from more foot injuries from sliding on concrete floors when housed in pens, compared to sows housed in gestation stalls.

Some of the most common problems leading to lameness have been reported for sows with elongated claws, claw cracks, heel erosion and overgrown heels. Uneven toes can also significantly impact the incidence of lameness.

ISU research has shown that feet and leg soundness, lameness or leg problems represent the second most identifiable reason that sows leave commercial breeding herds. “Many sows are removed from the herd before they pay for themselves,” says Ken Stalder, ISU Extension swine specialist. “Under most economic and productivity situations, the parity at which a sow has been sufficiently productive for the producer to recover the initial investment is between the third and fourth parity.”

Producers report reproductive failure and feet and leg problems are the leading reasons sows are culled prior to the third parity. By comparison, sows on their sixth parity or older are mainly culled due to age and performance. Stalder says 30% or more of the sows in U.S. herds are culled before Parity 3. “If we want the sows to stay in the herd longer, we need to focus on feet and leg soundness,” he says.

Structural Soundness

Stalder tells producers it is critical to evaluate toe size when selecting replacement gilts because leg conformation starts at ground level — conforming to the shape and size of the toes.

“Ideal toes are big toes, evenly sized and spread apart. It is a simple physics lesson: if the animal has a bigger foot to spread the weight over, it is less likely to have problems,” he says. “Unequal toe size is a big problem and can be selected against. In our culling study of 3,000 sows, virtually every animal that had uneven toes had an overgrown heel or a heel lesion on the heel of the long toe.”

In those cases, more weight is distributed on the long toe. Stalder says sows with uneven toes twist their foot as they walk, which lead to abrasions and, in turn, give bacteria and infections a place to start. He recommends culling sows with toe size differences of greater than ½ in.

Additionally, Stalder says producers should consider culling gilts that are bowlegged or have toes that point in or out. Illustrations depicting common structural problems and ideal feet and leg positions are provided in a new manual, “Sow Lameness, Claw Lesions and Pathogenesis Theories” available from Zinpro Corp. (www.zinpro.com).

Replacement gilts that suffer from foot injuries, cracked hooves, heel pad abrasions, swollen joints or dew claw injuries, start with a disadvantage. “These problems are costly to treat and they take a long time to heal. Ask yourself if the gilt is worth keeping,” he suggests.

In the 3,000-sow culling study, Stalder found only 13.6% of the animals had no foot lesions, meaning more than 85% of the sows had foot lesions. “We can do better than that,” he asserts. “Culling for feet and leg soundness or lameness is likely under-reported, as a sow does not want to get up and eat, gets thin and won’t cycle, and ultimately is culled for reproductive failure,” he says.

Take a Closer Look

“There should be no question about the significance of lameness as a key factor in sow herd performance, since sow lameness has been shown repeatedly to be one of the leading factors associated with culling, euthanasia and even mortality for sows,” says Jerry Torrison, DVM, with the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Torrison outlined research projects conducted in Europe and North America that showed the widespread scope of the lameness problem. As a practicing veterinarian, he often checked sow hoof condition when they were lying in the farrowing crate.

“It appears, based on studies, that if a lesion is allowed to develop into an infection, we have associated lameness as a result,” Torrison says. Most lesions fall into three major categories, including those caused by inflammation, trauma, and mechanical damage or an inferior horn.

Research is currently looking at on-farm solutions to help prevent lameness and improve welfare-related foot problems. Some producers have sows walk through foot baths containing copper sulfate, although some experts say sows are not walked through foot baths frequently enough to make a significant difference. In addition to the foot baths, some producers apply antibacterial sprays to feet and legs. Some research has shown trace mineral mixes containing complexed zinc, manganese and copper can also help improve sow claw health while helping contribute to the welfare of the sows.

Zinpro offers guides on lesion identification and functional hoof trimming, and instructional materials pertaining to functional hoof trimming and locomotion scoring at the Web site, www.zinpro.com/feetfirst.

Lora Berg is a freelance writer from Lakeville, MN.

Final Competition Workshop Slated for Dec. 8, Washington, DC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice have scheduled the last of five competition workshops for Dec. 8, Washington, DC.

The workshop will examine the issue of margins at various levels of the agricultural supply chain. The workshop will be held in the Jefferson Auditorium at USDA, which is accessible through a designated entrance on Independence Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets, S.W.

The fifth workshop is designed to promote dialogue and foster learning with regards to competition and regulatory issues in agriculture.

The workshops are the first joint Department of Justice/USDA workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.

The general public and media interested in attending the Washington workshop should register at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/marginsworkshop.

Opening remarks will be delivered by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Christine Varney. Panels will discuss supply chain dynamics, food retailing and margins in the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industries. Each panel will feature producers and industry representatives and academics with research expertise in related fields.

There will also be time for public testimony.

For further information, including submitted public comments, transcripts and videos for past workshops, please visit the Antitrust Division’s agriculture workshop Web site at www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/index.htm or contact hagriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov.

GIPSA Rule Could Result in $1.56 Billion GDP Loss

A recent study concerning the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule on buying and selling livestock and poultry found that the annual drop in gross domestic product (GDP) would be as much as $1.56 billion. The annual loss in tax revenues is estimated at $359 million. The study found that the rule would result in “ongoing and indirect” costs to the livestock and poultry industries, borne by producers and consumers, of more than $164 billion. This would include nearly $880 million to the beef industry, more than $401 billion to the pork industry, and $362 million to the poultry industry. Informa Economics, which conducted the study, said, “Effects will have a very long tail. The affected industries will still be feeling an impact a decade or more into the future. All signs point to detrimental outcomes for small producers, the very ones the rule is designed to help.” The study was conducted on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation.

Lawsuit Filed Against E15 — A group of farm and food trade associations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent decision to allow for gasoline blends of 15% ethanol (E15). According to the coalition, EPA’s decision to grant a “partial waiver” of the Clean Air Act, allowing E15 to be used only in cars built after model year 2006, is not within the agency’s legal authority. The coalition said, “In approving E15, which is compatible only with certain, later-model automobile and other types of engines, the EPA has clearly exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has unlawfully interpreted the statute to achieve a particular outcome.” Those joining in the lawsuit are: Grocery Manufacturers Association, American Meat Institute, National Council of Chain Restaurants, National Meat Association, National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, Snack Food Association and American Frozen Food Institute.

Soybeans Set New Production Record — USDA’s latest 2010 crop forecast has set a new production record for soybeans at 3.38 billion bushels. Soybean yields are estimated at 43.9 bu./acre. Corn production is forecast at 12.5 billion bushels, down 4.4% from the 2009 record. The yield estimate is 154.3 bu./acre, which is down 1.5 bu./acre from USDA’s previous forecast.

Agricultural Trade Advisory Committees — USDA has announced that it is accepting nominations to reestablish the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee for Trade (APAC) and the six Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees for Trade (ATAC). These committees, comprised of private sector members, advise USDA and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on overall agricultural trade policy objectives and positions prior to entering trade agreements, the operation of trade agreements and other trade matters. The six ATACs include: animals and animal products; fruits and vegetables; grains, feed, oilseed and planting seeds; processed foods; sweeteners and sweetener products; and tobacco, cotton and peanuts. Nominations must be received by Dec.17. For further information or to request forms, e-mail Steffon.Brown@fas.usda.gov.

Where has all the research gone?

Where has all the research gone?

With this title, you may think I am here to talk about the dire research situation in the North American swine indus­try. That is not the case. Research is alive and well. There is more research work and greater quality swine research today than ever in the past. This is also not a plea for more dollars for universities. The reason for my interest in this subject is that we believe we are near a critical juncture in the US swine industry in terms of whether we will remain the research and production leader around the world or whether we cede our leadership role to other countries.

Why do I think we are at a critical juncture for applied swine research in the US swine industry? Many of the reasons are obvious. There are fewer university swine research programs and the number continues to decline every year. Fewer young people entering universities have a farm background and thus, fewer students have interest in applied swine research careers. Increasing tuition and selective admissions (Martin, 2006) further reduces the pool of students with agricultural background and inter­est. Public research dollars for applied research have been on a steady decline for decades. On a positive note, these public funds are being replaced by private dollars that fund research within production systems or by funding from industry suppliers. This industry infusion of capital for ap­plied research is the main reason that research is alive and well. However, we would contend that current excitement of applied research breakthroughs in facilities built in swine production systems will wane with time and attrition due to long-term inability to replace the current research leaders in universities and production systems. We believe one of the key answers to having a continual supply of qualified, young researchers is to develop more public/private partnerships in order to maintain the critical research elements of research integrity, peer review, and student training.

Importance of technology adoption

We don’t need to spend much time with this audience on the importance of adopting technology; however, there are some examples that demonstrate the importance so well that we want to briefly highlight them. In a recent presentation at KSU Cattlemen’s Day, Dr. Ted Schroeder shared a graph (Figure 1) that shows the explosive improvements in corn yield in Iowa as a result of technology adoption (genetically modified corn). He contrasted the improvements in Iowa to the corn yields in Italy. In the early 1990’s Italy had higher yields than Iowa and is one of the EU’s top corn-growing countries. Typically, Italy would out yield Iowa; however, Italy has made no progress in corn yields in the last 15 years which lead to Iowa producers now having a 30 to 50 bu/acre advantage over Italian corn producers. The main difference is that Iowa improved yields through adopting genetically-engineered varieties while Italy and the EU resisted adoption of those technologies.

For a pork industry example, the data from a North Carolina State University study (Fix, 2007) demonstrates technology adoption very well. In this study, 1980 vin­tage pigs were created through frozen semen and sows unselected since 1979 and compared to 2005 genetic era pigs while feeding them diets that were common in 1980 compared to 2005 diets. Application of the technology advancements in genetics and nutrition had a profound impact on economically important traits. The combined genetic and nutrition advancements led to a 13% reduction in days to market (6% due to genetics, 7% due to feeding program; Figure 2), improved feed efficiency by 27% (7% genetic and 20% nutrition), reduced backfat by 24% (all via genetics), increased loin area by 34% (21% due to genetics and 13% from nutrition), and improved lean efficiency by 45% (22% for genetics, 23% for nutrition). The US Swine industry would require an additional 12.5 million tons of feed and 5 million pig spaces if we were trying to produce today’s numbers with 1980’s pigs and nutrition programs.

Models of technology transfer and research adoption

We often take technology development and transfer to practice for granted in the US. The Morrill Act began our long history of strong university research programs. The Smith-Lever Act led to development of extension programs that taught us how to extend university research breakthroughs to the industry. This model worked well for many years; however, one of the problems with the original structure and thought process is that it relied on innovations being made at the basic science level and those innovations to be forced down the chain in largely a one way communication channel (Figure 3). This is the model that most government policy is now following and has been referred to by some as the “pharmaceutical model” (Leaver, 2010). In this model, ‘blue sky’ research is done in university or research institutes with industry using the information to develop a saleable product. A problem with this research policy is the belief that all research innovation occurs at the basic research level. Because government policy follows this model, most federal dol­lars have been focused on basic science leading university administrators to hire faculty to pursue the basic sciences. This path increases the likelihood of researchers generat­ing more overhead dollars to fund university operations.

As Leaver (2010) describes and those of us that are in­volved in agricultural research and development realize, innovation can and has to occur at all levels of the research and development chain (Figure 4). Knowledge has to flow up and down the chain and influence actions at other levels rather than simply in a top down manner as much of the governmental research policy is written towards. Unfortunately, an excellent example of what can happen when one segment of the research and development chain is removed and not replaced by a comparable structure is the U.K. swine industry. The loss of some strategic and most applied agricultural research and extension in the U.K. through lack of funding has created a knowledge and innovation vacuum (Leaver, 2010; Figure 5).

As Stuart Lamb summarized in a Pork Magazine article:

“We can’t turn the clock back, but we can learn from history and how a country’s swine industry has evolved — or devolved — and learn by others’ mistakes. The United Kingdom is one such country as its swine industry has changed dramatically.”
“Fifty years ago there were many U.K.-run Extension station farms and a country-wide Extension service. This helped pig farmers stay up-to-date and run efficient businesses. However, the Thatcher government ended those efforts, and money was funneled from applied research. That was to the U.K. pig farmers’ detriment.”

We need to learn from the U.K. history. We have been following their model by eliminating public funding for the applied research/extension parts of the research and development chain. Extension and applied research programs in most areas of agriculture, but particularly swine, are being downsized or eliminated at most land grant institutions. As we stated above, we have a great start on replacing some of this infrastructure though private industry funding; however, we need to make sure we don’t forget about some key parts of the development chain during this transformation.

Example applied research models

We would suggest that there are three main applied re­search models: 1) university; 2) private; and 3) public/pri­vate partnerships. Each model has some unique benefits and downsides that must be considered.

University model.

The biggest benefits of the university model are that it traditionally hasn’t relied on much industry support, data is generally more unbiased than private data, and the research does not have to have immediate short-term application. This last benefit means that research can often be in areas with more long-term, exploratory focus or to develop basic knowledge that others need for their more applied research. Another huge upside of universities is that there are always young, bright inquisitive new minds that bring new ideas to the group. The recent lack of hiring at many universities has limited some of this advantage to graduate student influx rather than new faculty. The biggest downsides of university applied research models are that the data can often not be relevant or easily applicable by others. Research is often done in outdated facilities with too few of animals of the wrong genetics with the wrong health status to be readily used by producers. Most universities have not updated their facilities to match current industry standards. University models also work at a much slower pace due to regulatory requirements and other pressures on researchers’ time and, for some, simply because the tenure process allows them to not be bottom-line driven and time sensitive. The other reality is that less university-only ap­plied research will be available in the future simply due to a lack of funding of these programs.

Private model.

The biggest benefits of private model are that the research can have rapid application, is relevant to the exact production system where it is being conducted, can be focused on the immediate situation, and be bot­tom-line driven. However, there are some downsides with private only models. Like the university model, they can lose creativity over time if new people are not infused into the group or if the system doesn’t have dynamic people that are searching out new ideas and concepts to apply in the system. The bottom-line focus tends to move the thinking to the immediate and short-term which stifles creativity and can lead to fewer major breakthroughs. The biggest worry with replacing public models with private models is that there will be a void of people to replace the current generation of researchers trained in applied research that can bridge the gap between basic research and practice. We need to be cognizant of the long-term need to provide opportunities for future technologists in the swine industry to receive the proper basic training that is hard to accomplish in a private only model.

An often overlooked issue in most private research sys­tems is the lack of peer review. Just the mention of peer review implies a long drawn-out unnecessary delay in getting data into application; however, it is a process that makes us better. We are not advocating that all data should be withheld until it gets published in a journal article, but rather that we use multiple avenues of peer review to get feedback on our research results. These could include sharing data at meetings, such as the Leman Conference or meetings of the American Association of Swine Veteri­narians or American Society of Animal Sciences, or even at local or regional meetings between production systems. These venues provide an opportunity where people can discuss and debate research findings. Peer review often allows alternative conclusions and improvements to future experiments to surface.

Confidentiality is another issue that can be problematic with the private only model. In some cases it can lead to “selective” publication of results. The only data that often gets circulated from the private applied research systems is data that shows a product in a positive light. Because University applied research programs have pressure for publications and abstracts, it is more likely that negative results or no response trials will still find their way into experiment station reports, abstracts, and papers. Be­cause of the desire for confidentiality and lack of desire to publish, only those with a vested interest (usually sup­pliers) will share the results of research trials being done in many private-only models. We are often told that this is not a problem because “we will just test the product in our system before implementing”. In reality, you cannot test everything or waste time and resources in testing products or concepts that shouldn’t be tested. Also, we find that products get implemented into the system based on past relationships because there simply isn’t enough time for everybody to test everything. Lowering the confidentiality bar by building collaborations between production systems or by publishing trials at some point after being done will be required if the US swine industry is to continue the pace of technological improvement that we have experienced in the past. The research programs in some private systems have already taken this step. In other systems, the CEO’s (usually not trained in the research process) believe the need to protect the applied research investment via confidentiality outweighs the benefits that they receive from sharing information with others. This attitude has got to change. No swine production system has the expertise in all the areas that can be accessed through sharing of information and peer review.

Another problem that can occur in private systems is that the CEO may not value research highly and, thus, straps the researchers with other “more important” responsibilities in the company, thus, greatly diluting the private research efforts over time. There can be a tendency for private busi­nesses to “try this new idea” as opposed to a systematic, valid, research approach. This is particularly true when management training is in a field where the value of the scientific approach is not fully understood or appreciated.

Public/Private partnerships. When done correctly, we believe the third model can encompass many of the benefits of the university model and private models while minimizing the downside. There are more and more ex­amples of these types of partnerships being developed in the swine industry including the Maschhoff/University of Illinois partnership and the New Horizon Farms/Kansas State University team. The benefits that can be captured include the relevance of data, large system application, creativity, peer review, and the ability to add areas and depth of expertise that cannot be afforded within the pro­duction system. Certainly, there are downsides with these arrangements. The production system needs to recognize the commitment to research in added labor, equipment and any potential effects on pig flow and production. On the other hand, the university needs to recognize the commit­ment in resources the production system has made and not apply treatments or procedures that are overly disruptive to the production system.

The production system also has to be willing to give up some level of confidentiality. Also, decisions usually must be made on a team basis rather than an individual basis. Although we see the team decision making process as a benefit, some researchers (and university administrators) can view it as a downside because of the difficulty in determining who should get the credit.

Our belief is that much of the value in an internal produc­tion research program lies in the ability to execute change based on the data. Our observation is that production sys­tems with excellent processes in place to execute change also have greater confidence to submit their internal research data to external review. Their belief is that the major technologic advantage is from adoption. Therefore, a model of being exposed to more outside ideas brings more opportunities for implementation and more oppor­tunities to profit from the partnership.

Research model needs

Whether the research model is a university, private, or public/private partnership, we believe there are a few key requirements to make it successful long term.

Creativity. No matter where the applied research is being conducted, continual infusion of new ideas and new people is required. You have to be very careful to not squash the ideas of the “non-insiders” that bring suggestions to the research team. This can be a problem in a university or private system. Time is one of the biggest constraints on creativity. As a person becomes more successful, more requirements are placed on their time leaving less time to be creative. Researchers within universities and production systems have to find time to be creative. This can come through forced research meetings, brainstorming sessions, professional meetings, or other avenues. Besides time being required to allow those in the research team to be creative, adding outside people with new perspectives is another way to enhance creativity. People can be adding through hiring or, less expensively, by partnering with others whose expertise brings new ideas to the research team.

Dollars. Research and development is expensive. Partner­ships between university and private systems have allowed us to spread the costs over multiple organizations and lever­age expertise and resources; however, research still costs money. We believe it is a major mistake for a production system to view research as a profit center. The entire focus of the research unit changes once it is turned into a profit center. Instead of focusing on the biggest needs of the sys­tem, the focus becomes where we can find the necessary dollars to pay salaries and keep the research program run­ning. Thus, you will fail to answer relevant questions and be driven by whoever can bring the most dollars to the table. For a veterinarian, this will most likely be a animal health company. For a nutritionist, it will most likely be an ingredi­ent supplier. You will also find yourself compromising on experimental design and interpretation to satisfy the spon­sor so they will fund more research in your facility. Bottom line is that you need dollars to run a research program, but don’t let the dollars drive your research program.

Research mentality and commitment. Before a produc­tion system decides to build a research barn or start a research program, they need to determine whether they truly have the mentality and commitment to doing it cor­rectly. For us, this entails two parts. First and simply, will the research get done according to protocol. For example, if the agreement is that pigs need to be marketed a certain way in order to collect carcass data, will they actually be marketed that way. This is a very simple example, but inability to follow the agreed upon protocol is one of the biggest problems that we find in trying to conduct field research. There must be a champion with the research mentality in the upper management team of the production system or organization. Without a champion, short-term costs or “the way we always do things” will win out over proper experimental design.

Rigor in execution is the second part of research com­mitment. There must be rigor in protocol development, experimental design, execution, data capture, analysis, and interpretation. Lack of discipline in any of these areas usually results in failure of repeatability of results and failure of the research to have a true impact on the production system. Several examples can be given where lack of rigor could impact experiment results including: allotting pigs to treatments without balancing for genetic lines, gender, or location in barns, weighing on scales that have not been calibrated, not validating pig counts and carefully documenting pig removals, not treating all pigs on test in the same manner, not having sufficient replica­tions to draw conclusions, or using the wrong statistical methods to analyze data. Over time, the lack of rigor will lead to lack of trust in the research results and lack of need for the researchers involved.

Peer review. We have already discussed the importance that we place on peer review. As stated peer review is one of the most frustrating and humbling parts of being a researcher. However, you must expose your warts to the outside world and accept criticism that comes in order to improve on the process and obtain new ideas from others to apply in your system. Peer review helps to force rigor back into your process control. It is simply too embar­rassing not to have rigor when you expose yourself to peer review.

Credibility. In order to have value to the US swine indus­try or within the production system, the research program has to have credibility. By credibility, we mean can the results be trusted and repeated by others. Unfortunately, you do not have to have credibility to get research fund­ing. We all know of researchers that appear to be able to find a positive response to anything tested, no matter how many others have not been able to show those benefits in the past or in the future. We believe that very little data is outright made up; however, burying negative data sets, repeating trials until you convince yourself that you have the “right” results, or finding conclusions not supported by the data will all impact credibility.

Sometimes credibility isn’t that easily or greedily lost. Lack of rigor in experiment execution can lead to loss of credibility. Lack of open sharing of data can lead to loss of credibility. For example, if a research system conducts three trials with a feed additive and only one shows a positive response and that is the only data shared with the outside world, credibility is lost to those that cannot repeat the results over time. We all know that results aren’t 100% repeatable and, thus, we should be careful to deem somebody as not credible based on a single instance or two; however, serial violations to our trust and confidence will cause loss of credibility. As university researchers, if our research is not credible, producers will fail to gain benefit from our recommendations and we will eventu­ally lose their support. If the research program within a production system loses credibility, the system will eventually ignore their research results and not implement them leading to lack of need for the research program within that system.

Summary

We are not pessimistic so the glass is not half empty, nor is it really half full, it has just moved to a different table. Applied research is alive and healthy in the US swine industry; however, we do believe that the future is in danger due to loss of funding and increased privatiza­tion. Leaders in many of our private and public systems are getting older and will eventually need to be replaced. Our applied research models need to provide a place for training this next generation of applied researchers. By developing more public/private partnerships, we believe we can meet the applied research needs of the industry and train the next generation. Researchers in these pub­lic/private partnerships must remain an unbiased source of new creative ideas. The research needs to be focused on the long-term priorities of the partnership and not be driven by outside funding sources focused on placement of product in the production system. Because fewer universi­ties will be involved in applied research, those in these public/private partnerships will have the opportunity to be well funded. To be successful long term, these research models must have creativity, dollars, a research mentality and commitment, peer review, and credibility. We have an increasing number of examples in our industry where this is occurring. As an industry, we need to learn from and improve on these models to keep the US swine industry in the leadership role as the research and production leader around the world.

References

1. Fix, J. S. 2007. Differences in growth performance, carcass composition and meat quality traits of commercial pigs repre­sentative of 1980 and 2005 genetic types when reared on 1980 and 2005 representative feeding programs. Doctoral Thesis. North Carolina State University. Accessed at: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/theses/available/etd-05012007-090614/unrestricted/etd.pdf
2. Lamb, S., The U.K. Pig Industry: What History Tells Us, Pork Magazine, September 01, 2008
3. Leaver, D. 2010. Agricultural research and development in the UK needs a new vision. A paper prepared for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agricultural Science and Technology. Accessible at: http://www.appg-agscience.org.uk/meetings.html
4. Martin, M. 2006. A drift toward elitism by the ‘Peoples’ Universities. Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 51, Issue 25, page 25B.

Economic Uncertainties Slow Action

I am neither an accomplished athlete nor an all-knowing coach. But there is one athletic principle that I know for certain: uncertainty equals slow. Regardless of the age or athletic ability, a player or team that does not know what they are supposed to do will be slow to act or react, significantly diminishing their chances of success. So it is with matters economic. Uncertainty causes caution and caution causes inaction. Our economy as a whole and the livestock sector in particular are facing significant uncertainties and are exhibiting the attendant inaction at present. Consider the following:

• Congress passed sweeping legislation “reforming” health care and health insurance and substantially changing the rules under which financial institutions operate. Both pieces of legislation are massive with many details and specific requirements. I haven’t read either, but I would bet that both have many internal conflicts and leave about as many questions unanswered as answered. Few, if any, know what these new laws mean from an operational standpoint. One result has been hesitation on the part of businesses to respond to what appears to be a recovering economy by adding new workers and stoking that recovery. Another has been an apparent paralysis in the capital markets where little is happening because the particular risks are unclear or unknown. A return to consistent and acceptable growth rates will require more jobs and more capital to support those workers and make them productive.

• GIPSA’s proposed rules to enhance enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act have created a similar kind of uncertainty in the livestock and poultry sectors. The beef sector uses marketing agreements to enhance and ensure quality standards. The poultry sector uses production contracts to get their birds grown to market weights. The pork sector uses both types of contractual arrangements to manage production, marketing and pricing. The rules governing what these contracts and agreements must say, to whom they can be offered, the level and type of records that must be maintained and many other factors are in flux. The reaction is to wait and see.

Competitive Disadvantage
That is not to say that hesitation is all bad. How do you react when faced with confusion or uncertainty when driving? I usually slow down to allow more time to think, make a decision and, hopefully, take the correct course of action. It is a good response to risk unless of course you slow down too much and get run over by someone else. I have some experience with that and it is no fun to get rolled into a ditch even when you come out relatively unscathed.

But hesitancy in economics, as in athletics, allows competitors to “roll you in the ditch.” Producers in Brazil, Canada, EU-27 countries, Russia, Chile and other locations are not dealing with these uncertainties. While they may face higher feed costs just as we do, they do not have to deal with a changing regulatory landscape and can be making progress toward their goals, while we wait and see. And more important, they can move to capture opportunities that arise in the meantime, possibly foreclosing competitors like us for years to come.

Risk is the possibility of loss or injury. In economics, risk is used to describe a situation where a precise outcome is not known and some outcomes are bad, but potential outcomes can be quantified and probabilities can be assigned to those outcomes. Those characteristics allow us to take true “calculated” risks whether the calculations be formal or merely mental – for those of you who can “do the math in your head.”

Uncertainty, though, is broader. Webster defines it as “indefinite, indeterminate, not clearly identified or defined.” The idea is that at least some alternate outcomes are not known. With uncertainty, we don’t even know the possible specific outcomes much less their probabilities of occurrence. Under uncertainty, calculations are impossible. Guesses are the order of the day and, if the consequences are large, a very reasonable alternative to guessing is to do nothing.

How long will this last? Based on the Nov. 2 elections, it could last for awhile on the national scene. Republicans are campaigning to repeal the health care reform bill. I’ve heard little about the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, but I would not be surprised to see it, or at least parts of it, in the crosshairs as well.

GIPSA Comments
The GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) rule will likely be clarified and finalized more quickly. Of utmost importance for pork producers is that next Monday, Nov. 22, is the deadline for comments to be submitted to USDA. You can comment by mail to Tess Butler, GIPSA, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 1643-S, Washington, DC 20250-3604; by fax to (202) 690-2173; by e-mail to http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R= 0900006480b0803e.

And your comments need not be lengthy nor elegant. Read the rule (which is not extremely long and can be found at www.gipsa.usda.gov/GIPSA/webapp?area=home&subject=lr&topic=gfr by clicking on the item dated 6/22/10) and tell GIPSA what you believe the rule will do for or to your operation. I would urge you to point out the impacts on hog producers specifically since the rule appears to be aimed at a lot of beef and chicken industry issues, with the pork industry taken along for the ride.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: steve@paragoneconomics.com

Pork Butts Don’t Get No Respect

The pork butt is the Rodney Dangerfield of pork cuts. It’s more tender, juicy, flavorful and affordable than many cuts in the pork carcass, but it doesn’t get any respect. A new international initiative is out to change that.

U.S. pork processors and exporters met with U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) international directors and U.S.-based staff this August in a New Opportunity Conference to identify which pork and beef products would benefit from additional attention in the global marketplace, and what USMEF could do to better position the targeted cuts to increase both sales and profitability.

In the minds of those participating pork industry executives, there were no ifs or ands about it, the butt was far and away the top pork cut identified with the greatest unrealized potential.

“The pork butt grades very well when compared to the ham and loin muscles in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavor,” says Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president of marketing and communications. “It truly is an attractive and affordable cut that is greatly underutilized.

“From an eating experience perspective, the butt may be the best option from the entire pork carcass,” Halstrom says.

Educational Meetings
Utilizing information from swine attribute research sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State University and the Pork Checkoff, USMEF is now conducting meetings with international retail and foodservice customers to educate them about the potential benefits to their business of adding pork butts to their product mix.

“USMEF is looking at a variety of markets for this initiative, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, South Korea and Japan,” says Halstrom. “U.S. pork is the protein of choice globally, and we see opportunities to expand market share and compete with other proteins by educating our contacts there about the advantages of the pork butt.”

Halstrom believes that lack of familiarity with the pork butt – both on the part of consumers and the trade – has limited opportunities for growth. Even in the United States, the cut tends to be more of a seasonal item used predominantly for summer grilling and smoked for use in pulled pork.

“Many consumers don’t know how to prepare the pork butt,” he says. “That limits the amount of shelf space it gets at retail. And we see the same challenge in the HRI (hotel, restaurant and institutional) sector. The educational component of this campaign will be important as we work to help chefs and meat buyers understand the value of adding pork butt to their menus.”

Pork Butt Parts
The pork butt contains five key muscles (Serratus Ventralis, Supraspinatus, Subscapularis, Infraspinatus and Pectoralis Profundi). According to the swine attribute research, four of the five butt muscles earned higher tenderness scores than the loin/ham muscles, and all five butt muscles scored higher in terms of juiciness and flavor.

“Research we are conducting on merchandising yields and comparisons with other proteins will help guide our introduction of the pork butt in global markets,” says Halstrom. “This will be valuable information as we look to expand the return that both producers and exporters realize from this particular cut.”

USMEF’s international team will take that research and use it to help customize recipes and product presentation for the pork butt by region – customizing it to fit the local cuisines.

Pork Export Tally
Through the first nine months of 2010, U.S. pork exports are up 2% in volume and 9% in value over 2009, approaching 1.4 million metric tons (3.1 billion pounds) valued at $3.5 billion. On a per-head basis in September, pork export value was $41.33 per head, compared to $35.30 last year. For the year-to-date, exports account for nearly 24% of total U.S. pork production.

Philip Seng
U.S. Meat Export Federation

Pork Board Set to Trim Its Committee Structure

At its meeting this week in Des Moines, the National Pork Board will be reviewing its committee structure and mulling a report from a task force it appointed last spring to study how producer committees are organized.

The board currently has 11 pork producer-led committees that provides guidance on issues ranging from product marketing, environment, to animal health and food safety. The task force is recommending that the board trim the number of committees to eight by combining two committees that focus on producer services, education and communications and two others that focus on nutrition and pork safety.

It is also advising that a committee focused on niche marketing become a subcommittee of the merged producer group, and that the board assure that producers who specialize in providing niche market products be included on all board committees.

“Creating a task force to study our committee process was one of the recommendations in our new five-year strategic plan,” says Gene Nemechek, a swine veterinarian from Springdale, AR, who is president of the National Pork Board. “The task force recognized the importance of the work that producer-led committees do. They provide valuable expertise in areas the board, as a whole, might not possess. But the task force also found that there was some overlap between committees, prompting its recommendations on reorganization.

“The task force offered a number of other suggestions to improve the committee process, one of which calls for more direct involvement in the committee process by board members.

“The goal is to assure we have a committee structure that is more efficient and more focused on achieving the goals outlined in the five-year strategic plan the board approved last spring.”

If the Pork Board approves the task force report, the committee structure will include domestic marketing, producer education and services, environment, animal well-being, animal science, swine health, trade and pork safety and nutrition.

The National Pork Board meets Tuesday through Thursday. Tuesday afternoon the board will meet with the task force studying how the National Pork Board might better serve the needs of state pork organizations. It will also review a progress report from the task force focusing on Pork Board research objectives.

Also on the board’s agenda is approval of the 2011 program budget from the Plan of Work Task Force, a group of 50 diverse producers who make budget recommendations from goals outlined in the strategic plan. The new budget calls for $46 million of Pork Checkoff revenue to create new excitement for pork in the marketplace and to help consumers better understand and appreciate modern agriculture.

Other proposals will advance the work of the pork industry’s We Care initiative and fund research to address significant social, economic and production concerns facing the pork industry.

Once the board approves the budget, it will be sent to the secretary of agriculture for final approval.

The board will also:

  • Hear a report on plans for the 25th anniversary of the Pork Checkoff created by Congress in the 1985 farm bill;
  • Discuss a new vulnerabilities assessment to help guide the board on issues management;
  • Receive a progress report on work being done to reposition pork in the marketplace;
  • Receive training in the use of techniques on “social media;”
  • Play host to its annual staff appreciation luncheon; and
  • Start planning for the 2011 Pork Industry Forum in March.