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PEDV Outbreaks Temper Production Expansion

PEDV Outbreaks Temper Production Expansion

USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) released today forecasts lower total red meat and poultry production for both 2013 and 2014 compared to projections in September.

Pork production is reduced from last month based on third quarter data and a slower pace of slaughter in October and November.

Pork production forecast for 2014 is also reduced. The September Hogs and Pigs report reflected producer intentions to expand sows farrowing through early 2014, supported by moderating feed costs.

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However, this forecast has been tempered by continuing reports of outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus.

Pork exports are reduced from September based on the pace of exports and lowered expectations due to weakened demand in Asia.

The forecast for hog prices is raised for both 2013 and 2014 due to tighter supplies and strong demand.

For the full report, go to and click on Agency Reports.

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Farmers on Verge of Record Corn Harvest



Farmers on Verge of Record Corn Harvest

Farmers on Verge of Record Corn Harvest

U.S. corn growers remain on track for a record high 14.0 billion bushel production year, according to the Crop Production report, released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

In addition to corn numbers, the report also included updated forecasts for U.S. citrus production, and major field crops, such as soybeans and cotton.

Based on administrative data, NASS revised the acreage planted to corn this season to 95.3 million acres, down 2%  from the previous estimate.

Despite the decrease, however, production forecast remained high due to high forecasted yields. This season’s yields are expected to average 160.4 bushels per acre, with corn growers in 18 states forecast to reach record yields this year.

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The weather also remains good for harvest so far this year, allowing growers to harvest 73% of the corn crop by Nov. 3, which is 2% ahead of the five-year average harvest rate.

NASS also reduced the planted area for soybeans to 76.5 million acres, down 1% from the previous forecast. Just as with corn, however, favorable weather conditions account for higher pod counts compared with the 2012 yield. Soybean yields are expected to average 43.0 bushels per acre, with the final production forecast at 3.26 billion bushels. If realized, this will be the third-largest production year on record.

NASS interviewed approximately 10,000 producers across the country in preparation for this report. In addition to farmer interviews, NASS also used its national and state level objective yield measurements to determine accurate yield and production forecasts.

The Crop Production report is published monthly and is available online at

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3 Lessons Convey Value of Improvest

Pigs after 1 dose of Improvest

Over the last year, I collaborated with economists Brian Buhr and Terry Hurley of the University of Minnesota, Glynn Tonsor of Kansas State University and Kelly Zering of North Carolina State University to analyze the supply-chain economics of adopting Improvest (gonadotropin-releasing factor analog, diphtheria toxoid conjugate) in the U.S. pork industry.

Improvest, introduced by Zoetis in 2011, is a safe and effective alternative to physical castration of male pigs that helps manage unpleasant odors that can occur when cooking pork. As the first immunological castration product of its kind in the U.S. marketplace, it helps producers capture the inherent economic value of raising intact male pigs for the U.S. domestic and export markets, which this research examines extensively for the first time.

Our economic analysis revealed insights on two levels.

First, we quantified both short-term cost savings and long-term revenue-generating potential. U.S. pork producers, on average, stand to gain more than $5 per head in net income with the adoption of Improvest when they deploy it in a profit-optimizing manner, compared with profit-optimizing physical castrates. 

On another level, Improvest proved to be a significant case study in challenging the conventional wisdom regarding how producers frequently evaluate new technology adoption.

In this summary, we will focus on three key takeaways.

Lesson No. 1

Because producers often oversimplify the analysis of a new product or technology in the production process, especially if it impacts market weights, they may miss the full value it can bring.

Our first objective was to understand the scope of changes that Improvest brings to the production process. We reviewed literature, field data from trials using Improvest in the United States, and cut-out data from these animals. We sought to quantify the economic impacts, both positive and negative.

Our research showed that Improvest has a positive impact immediately at weaning. On average, pigs managed with Improvest show a 1.6% improved survival rate. This results in fixed-cost dilution, as more pigs are produced per site, and sold for added revenue and total farm profit. Farms gain additional value because of lower castration-related input costs in labor and supplies. From this point, Improvest reshapes the entire growth process, adding value to the male pig through dramatic improvements in feed efficiency, and enabling added weight within the constraints of the packer buying program. The exact amount producers stand to gain depends largely on their willingness to understand all of the production changes, and to modify their management and marketing procedures to capture the most value.

Lesson No. 2

Always consider impacts over the long term; don’t be fooled by short-term economic analysis.

When looking at the economic impact of a product or service, it’s a mistake to base outcomes only on present market prices and costs. Using current costs and prices as the foundation of a longer-term economic decision can lead to big errors in decision-making, as prices and costs change — sometimes dramatically — and those changes can alter the outcome of the decision. Our analysis used price and cost distributions for five years, 2007 to 2011. (We omitted the uncharacteristic 2012 drought impacts.) Our goal was to understand the range of outcomes the industry could see with Improvest, rather than a single value or average estimate.

We also looked at current feeding systems and wean-to-finish technologies to understand how limitations on production systems could affect net returns. Our analysis showed the potential for substantial gain when adopters of Improvest transition from typical industry building and feeding technologies to separate-sex feeding. While we did not evaluate building cost per se, separate-sex feeding using double-stocked, wean-to-finish barns could be the ideal strategy. The typical configuration might start with males managed with Improvest and gilts stocked together at weaning on separate sides of a double-wide, wean-to-finish building. The gilts, for instance, would be moved to a separate finisher to facilitate optimum feeding and marketing strategies by sex.

Lesson No. 3

Focusing on feed savings alone, even though feed represents the greatest single input cost, can lead to lower profit estimates.

Over time, Improvest allows more feed-efficient growth and lean-tissue accretion characteristic of the intact male (compared with the physical castrate). The carcass characteristics and feed efficiency of the physical castrate are degraded from the time of castration, and its overall growth rate is only marginally enhanced.

The superior feed efficiency and carcass lean accretion of the males managed with Improvest continue through the second of two immunizations. The second immunization, which must be given between three and 10 weeks prior to marketing, fundamentally changes the pig. At this point, the male pig dramatically increases its appetite, reducing its marginal feed efficiency and increasing fat production. 

This is when a producer might mistakenly determine that any reduction in feed efficiency will hurt profitability, increasing the temptation to sell early to preserve the highest feed-efficiency gain. However, after the second dose, pigs deliver valuable meat gain (both fat and lean together), which is greater than the marginal loss in feed efficiency for several additional days (see figures 1 and 2). 



In a sense, the producer is trading back some marginal feed efficiency (or cost savings) for a greater value of added meat production (revenue enhancement) during this period. This sets up the classic economic trade-off. Optimization of profits is realized when all of the added revenue gains that are greater than the costs of achieving them are realized.

Producers who see Improvest as essentially a feed-efficiency enhancer will leave substantial profits on the table. Instead of focusing on marketing at maximum feed savings, producers will need to forgo some marginal feed savings in order to benefit from added meat production and profits. This sets up a win-win scenario, as pigs managed with Improvest finish with superior overall feed conversion rates compared with physically castrated pigs.

Producers who will benefit the most from Improvest are those who are able to capture the efficiencies of its feed-efficient growth prior to second immunization, while trading back just enough of the feed-efficiency gains after this second dose to profitably add weight and the necessary fat to primal cuts such as the belly. This is important, as it assures the tremendous value of the belly in the composite carcass is maintained, along with the other primal cuts. 

Male pigs managed with Improvest have been found to have a lower standard deviation of finished weights at comparable average barn weights compared with physical castrates.

But these pigs also will be slightly leaner at profit-optimum market weights. These two characteristics factor into an incentive to heavier weights for male pigs managed with Improvest, within the limits of the individual producer’s packer buying program. 


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In the case of the profit-optimized barrows managed with Improvest, we found that, on average, they will be 10 to 12 lb. heavier in live weight gain (4 to 6 lb. of added carcass weight) in the same number of days, compared with profit-optimized, physically castrated barrows across a wide range of hog prices and feed-cost combinations.

As prices and costs change, the optimum average end weights for each go up and down, but the differential weights and profit differences are much less variable.   

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Vilsack Urges Passage of New Farm Bill

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says today’s release of Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition by USDA’s Economic Research Service points out the need for passage of a new farm bill.

“Today's annual report by USDA's Economic Research Service - Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition - highlights the critical need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will help to reverse troubling demographic and economic patterns in rural America.

“The fact is, too many people in rural America live in persistently-poor areas. Too many people still have trouble finding a good job. The populations of too many small towns and rural communities are shrinking.

“This is just one more reminder that we need a national commitment to create new opportunities in rural America that keeps folks in our small towns and reignites economic growth across the nation.

“The Farm Bill would invest to grow agricultural exports, and strengthen new markets for agriculture that hold job creation potential. It would spur new opportunities to manufacture products and energy from homegrown materials. It would invest in the future of Main Street businesses and communities.

“Rural America needs a new farm bill now, to meet these modern challenges head on and chart a pathway for future economic success across our rural areas.”

The Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition report can be viewed here:

Pork Checkoff Promotes Range of Cooking Temperatures

cooking pork

Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved cooking pork to an internal temperature of  145 degrees F, with a three-minute rest, consumers aren’t buying it, says a Pork Checkoff official.

New research shows consumers are more comfortable with cooking recommendations that offer a range of doneness, according to John Green, director of strategic marketing for the Pork Checkoff.

“The findings have changed Checkoff consumer communications from recommending just 145 degrees with a 3-minute rest to promoting a range of doneness: medium- rare (145 degrees with a 3-minute rest) to medium (160 degrees),” Green says.

The Checkoff surveyed 300 people in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. While 61% of respondents said they have a meat thermometer, less than 20% use it to check to see if pork is done. Instead, they cut into pork to check the color, letting the juices out.

“Most participants said they prefer pork cooked medium (160 degrees) to well-done (170 degrees), which far exceeds USDA’s guideline of cooking pork to 145 degrees with a 3-minute rest,” Green says. “Well-done pork will be tough and dry.”

The participants evaluated six photos of fresh pork cooked to a variety of temperatures and scored them based on whether they looked safe to eat. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents favored photos of pork cooked to 170 degrees.

Photos of pork cooked to 145 degrees were not as appealing and reportedly would not motivate the consumers to purchase pork.

Many participants also agreed with the statement: “To be safe and healthy, pork should be thoroughly cooked so there’s no pink coloring in the center.”

Healthy Meets Delicious
Even after being advised of the new USDA cooking guidelines, few consumers said they would be comfortable serving pork cooked to 145 degrees. The findings demonstrate the continued need to educate consumers how to cook juicy pork. These valuable insights are being incorporated into messages to consumers, such as this past summer’s Cook It Like a Steak campaign for pork chops.

“Years of promotion and education efforts may be needed to change long-standing behaviors,” Green says. “To move toward that goal, the Checkoff will continue to educate consumers to cook pork between 145 to 160 degrees to enjoy juicy, tender, flavorful pork.”


South Dakota Helps Fight PEDV

South Dakota State University campanile logo

Since its first appearance in the United States in May 2013, cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus have been on the rise. As of Oct. 26, 2013, PED virus infections have been detected in 924 case submissions from 18 different states, says Russ Daly, Extension veterinarian, South Dakota State University (SDSU).

“The PED virus has been detected in one grow-finish site in late May in South Dakota, with an additional environmental sample found positive in August. Detection of PED virus in U.S. swine herds is remarkable, since the virus has not previously been recognized in our country, despite its long history in Europe and Asia,” Daly says.

SDSU Develops PEDV Diagnostic Test

At South Dakota State University's Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, a diagnostic test was developed and made available to veterinarians within a couple weeks of the virus's first detection. Initially, a gel-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test was developed; following that a “real time” PCR test was perfected at SDSU as well.

“These tests can accurately differentiate PED virus from other similar viruses, and can detect the virus in very small numbers,” Daly says.


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The preferred sample for the test is manure from affected pigs or intestines from pigs that have died. The main reason for having diagnostics performed is to differentiate disease due to PED virus from disease caused by similar viruses such as Transmissible Gastroenteritis (TGE) virus. Some herds may wish to monitor their buildings or vehicles for the presence of PED virus; environmental samples may be submitted for that purpose.

After the first outbreak of PED virus, a pointed effort quickly took place, and is ongoing, among veterinary diagnostic labs to perform further research on PED virus, including the development of additional diagnostic tests such as blood tests that would detect antibodies, therefore previous exposure, to the virus.

“SDSU researchers were among the first in the United States to grow the actual virus in the laboratory, a critical step in development of new tests and experiments that will help us understand the disease even better,” Daly says.

While PED and TGE viruses are very similar to each other, Daly explains that the diseases caused by them are very similar also.

“Diarrhea, most severe in young piglets, is the hallmark of infections with PED virus. This diarrhea often results in severe dehydration and death in preweaned pigs. Milder clinical signs are noted in older animals,” he says. “Even though PED virus is very closely related to TGE, immunity to TGE, through previous exposure or through vaccination programs, does not confer resistance to PED virus. There currently is no vaccine against PED virus.”

Some 144 Herds Tested in South Dakota

At SDSU to date, over 1,800 samples have been submitted and tested for PED virus since the emergence of the virus. From South Dakota herds, 168 samples have been tested as of Nov. 4, 2013 with no positive results. The previously mentioned South Dakota positive samples were detected at other diagnostic laboratories.

Daly says this would indicate either that producers and veterinarians are cognizant of the disease and do not see the need for diagnostic confirmation, or that there simply are not many suspect cases in our area.

“Reports from regulatory and local veterinarians would suggest that the latter case may be more likely,” he says.

He adds that basic biosecurity procedures should be effective in keeping the virus out of non-infected premises. The more familiar, but closely related, TGE virus infections typically occur more frequently during fall and winter months. If PED virus behaves similarly, swine producers and veterinarians may need to employ heightened vigilance as the seasons change.

“Attention to personnel and vehicle traffic, in addition to proper animal movement and isolation protocols, should be reinforced with all farm personnel,” he says. “However, producers and veterinarians should keep in mind that our state's swine herd would be very susceptible to infection with PED virus, having no previous exposure, making biosecurity efforts more important than ever.”

If cases of PED virus are suspected, Daly says producers should work with their veterinarians to determine the best diagnostic strategy.

“It's important to the industry that suspect cases get promptly investigated and confirmed with diagnostics in order for us to better understand how PED virus is affecting our U.S. and South Dakota swine populations,” he says.

To learn more, visit

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Singing the Praises of Immunological Castration

Immunologically castrated boars
Immunologically castrated boars after second dose of Improvest.

Immunological castration is a solution to physical castration that is getting more attention internationally in animal welfare circles, according to an article in a recent issue of the American Society of Animal Science’s “Taking Stock” newsletter (

Numerous research trials have found immunological castration to have a wide range of potential benefits, including reduced stress. A recent study published in the Journal of Animal Science suggests immunologically castrated pigs are less susceptible to stress than physically castrated pigs. An indicator of this is the immunologically castrated pigs were much less vocal when workers entered their pens than pigs that were physically castrated.

Other behavioral differences around humans included immunologically castrated pigs showing a more inquisitive interest in their handlers.

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The amount of time spent on pig-human contact did not differ between immunologically castrated pigs and physically castrated pigs, but the behavior of immunologically castrated pigs was more intense.

During transport to market, no immunologically castrated pigs were found “dead or down.” Among the physically castrated pigs, the dead and down rate was about 1%. Other studies have reported similar dead and down rates, but a large-scale field study with proper replication is needed to determine whether immunological castration reduces mortality and injury rates during commercial transport.

The research article is titled “Behavior and handling of physically and immunologically castrated market pigs on farm and going to market.” It can be read in full at

To learn more about immunological castration, read “The benefits of immunological castration.”

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Farm Bill Fight Keys on Protecting Interstate Commerce

In its latest attempt to coerce Congress, the lobbying arm of The Humane Society has taken out $100,000 in online ads to force the removal of a key animal rights amendment from the 2013 farm bill, according to The Hill (

The ads, which began running Friday, target members of the newly formed House-Senate farm bill conference committee, which began work last Wednesday.

At issue is an amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that attempts to stop states such as California from banning goods made in other states based on the means of production.

The California law is aimed at eggs laid by hens kept in battery cages, and helped spur an agreement between the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers to phase out battery cages. A smaller group of egg producers and lobbyists for other growers, including pig farmers, are behind the King amendment.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund is targeting Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Harkin (D-IA, and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN.) and Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Tim Walz (D-MN), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Steve Southerland (R-FL), Martha Roby (R-AL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Austin Scott (R-GA), and Glenn Thompson (R-PA).

In 2012, the Humane Society Legislative Fund spent heavily in a failed effort to defeat King, whom the group views as its chief foe in Congress.


Ontario Pork Group Enters Welfare Agreement


To curb animal welfare abuses, Ontario Pork and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have entered into a collaborative agreement to investigate claims on swine farms.

This arrangement addresses both Ontario Pork’s and Ontario SPCA’s responsibilities regarding animal welfare.

Under the agreement, both organizations will work together to address concerns of animal abuse or neglect. Ontario Pork will provide technical assistance to Ontario SPCA officers in cases where inadequate animal care may be occurring on swine farms.

Further, Ontario Pork and Ontario SPCA have agreed that upon at least 48 hours notice, Ontario Pork will visit a swine farm in conjunction with Ontario SPCA officers for the purpose of investigating any complaints or allegations of inadequate animal care.

Similarly, Ontario SPCA has agreed to contact Ontario Pork with at least 48 hours notice, except in situations where animals are in immediate distress, to arrange a joint inspection of the licensed farm property.

Ontario Pork and Ontario SPCA will host joint education sessions on an annual basis to exchange information and experiences related to on-farm animal care and Code of Practice issues.


Canadian Minister Reinforces Position on COOL

Canadian Minister Reinforces Position on COOL

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz led a Canadian delegation of provincial agriculture ministers and industry representatives to the annual North American Meat Association (NAMA) Outlook Conference in Chicago, IL, where he reinforced Canada’s position on U.S. country- of- origin labeling (COOL).

“COOL continues to hurt industries on both sides of the border, adding unnecessary red tape, delays, and costs to our integrated North American meat industry. U.S. legislators have an opportunity now through the Farm Bill to end the economic harm that COOL is having throughout North America,” Ritz said. “Our government remains committed to pursuing all options available to resolve this dispute, including retaliation.”

The delegation included Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn, as well as representatives from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council. Together, federal and provincial governments stood alongside Canadian and U.S. industry to deliver a unified message of the negative impacts COOL is having on both sides of the border.


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On Sept. 25, 2013, a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel on COOL was established in Geneva to determine whether measures found to violate WTO obligations have been brought into conformity.

If Canada prevails in the compliance proceedings, which may include an appeal to the WTO Appellate Body, the next step would be for Canada to seek authorization from the WTO to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports to Canada.

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