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Articles from 2002 In February

Animal Welfare Expert

The National Pork Board has hired Anna Johnson as director of animal welfare. She will implement checkoff-funded, animal welfare-related programs and provide technical expertise.

Johnson earned a doctorate degree in animal welfare at Texas Tech University at Lubbock. Her research focused on animal behavior and its impact on performance and welfare of the lactating sow and litter.

Finding Our Better Selves

The winds of change are blowing through the pork industry and the gales seem to be picking up a bit. I've sensed it more at pork producer meetings and trade shows recently.

In 2002, pork producers seem to have recovered, regrouped and recommitted. Tempered by the events of recent years, the survivors have raised both the production bar and the business management bar.

This is not totally new territory for us. There have been periods or phases that have left an indelible mark.

We saw it in the '40s and '50s when the first national pork organization was formed, controversial crossbreeding experiments began and performance-testing methods were developed that led to more meat-type hogs.

In the '60s, the National Pork Producers Council was formed; a nickel per pig was voluntarily deposited into a master fund.

In the '70s, the U.S. was declared free of hog cholera, artificial insemination techniques were refined.

In the mid-'80s, a legislative pork checkoff was incorporated into the farm bill; “Pork — the Other White Meat” campaign was launched.

A major shift toward integrated pork production systems occurred in the '90s. Pork quality programs and environmental initiatives became focal points. And, the worst hog market crash in history sent the industry reeling. At the close of the century, the pork checkoff became a divisive issue and opposing camps squared off. A tumultuous stretch of negotiations and legal actions ensued.

Thankfully, a settlement agreement was reached that allowed the mandatory checkoff to continue. The agreement included the caveat that the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board must function as distinctly separate entities.

That has drawn us into a new round of soul-searching and hard questions about industry governance and structure. Again, the pork industry's mettle is being tested. This is one of these critical phases that will set the tone for another decade or more.

Much of the discussion revolves around reallocation of checkoff funds. Some feel the issues facing the pork industry have changed so markedly since the legislative checkoff was written into the 1985 Farm Bill that it's time to consider reallocation of those funds.

New Century Challenges

Certainly, the new century pork industry finds itself face-to-face — and sometimes toe-to-toe — with animal welfare activists and passionate environmentalists such as Robert Kennedy Jr.'s Waterkeepers Alliance.

Of course, the Pork Act governing the mandatory checkoff prohibits the use of those funds in addressing public policy and regulatory issues.

Producers in some states have drafted resolutions that would lower the mandatory checkoff rate, then through “implied consent” to the packer, allow another deduction to be pooled in an unrestricted war chest used for lobbying, public policy issues and precendent-setting legal wrangling.

One state resolution suggests lowering the mandatory checkoff to 35¢, allowing another 10¢ to be deducted through implied consent. Another suggests a 30¢ mandatory/15¢ unrestricted checkoff split. Still another suggests an equal split — 22½¢ mandatory/22½¢ implied consent and unrestricted.

I've being mulling over these proposals since I first got wind of them. Truthfully, I've vacillated from thinking it's a very good idea to thinking it could be a really bad idea. Today, I'm sitting on the fence.

Impact of Reallocation

A 10¢ reduction would lower the funds available to the National Pork Board for pork promotion, consumer education and research by 22%. You have to ask yourself: “What 22% of the Pork Board-funded programs are non-essential?”

Or, on scale of priorities, is the bottom one-fourth of checkoff-funded programs less important than the top regulatory and policy issues?

Still, if non-checkoff, unrestricted funds are not available, who will fight the policy and regulatory battles?

Some proponents of reallocation ask: “Where would the mandatory checkoff be if the NPPC had not used non-checkoff funds to defended it?”

Then, too, will big contributors leverage their non-checkoff contributions?

These and more important questions must be asked and answered. The pros and cons of each scenario must be studied closely. It is imperative that your delegates to the annual meeting know where you stand so they can represent your wishes.

Perhaps President Bush said it best in his State of the Union address when he appealed to party loyalists. “We must set aside posturing and focus on results,” he said. Good advice that applies here, too. Mr. Bush also observed: “…after America was attacked, it was as if our entire country looked in the mirror and saw our better selves.”

It is my hope that pork producers will continue to express their “better selves” as these decisions are made. Historically, they always have. I don't expect that to change.

Florida Amendment

The Florida Supreme Court has approved wording of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the use of gestation stalls or tethers.

For the amendment to appear on the November ballot, sponsors must collect half a million valid signatures by June.

“The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) believes this is clearly the start of a nationwide strategy by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to dictate production methods to American agriculture, beginning with pork,” observes NPPC President Barb Determan. “Florida has few hog farms using crates, but it was picked because the state has a citizen-friendly initiative petition process.” The only legal requirements are that the amendment deal with one subject only and the ballot title and summary fairly describe the amendment, she points out.

Amendment sponsors are HSUS, Farm Sanctuary and Floridians for Humane Farms. More information is at

PRV Eradication Is In Sight

With the mid-January announcement that there are no cases of pseudorabies (PRV) in Iowa, the elimination of the nation's last known cases brings eradication a step closer to reality.

“This is a major accomplishment for pork producers in Iowa and even across the U.S.,” says Loda, IL, producer Jim Niewold, chair, National Pork Board Swine Health Committee. “Now we are collectively holding our breath for the next two months or so. If Iowa and the rest of the nation can get through March and April without any significant outbreaks, we will have taken a giant step toward final eradication of the virus in the U. S.”

Even though there are no known PRV-infected premises in the country, the eradication effort continues, assures Beth Lautner, DVM, National Pork Board vice president of science and technology.

“There still might be a risk of outbreaks from herds that are infected but not yet detected, and there is an ongoing surveillance effort to find any remaining PRV-infected herds that might still be in the country,” she says. The eradication program will continue until the U.S. is declared free of the virus and other countries recognize the U.S. as being PRV-free.

Keys to staying free of the virus are biosecurity and vaccination. Talk to your veterinarian to determine if vaccination is still a necessity on your operation, adds Niewold.

Exports Spur Hog Prices

Pork exports continue their 10-year rise, aided by a variety of factors, says Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri agricultural economist.

Grimes' analysis of trade data for the first 10 months of 2001 shows net exports added $5.59 to the value of each hog slaughtered, injecting nearly $452 million into producer profits.

“The increase in the value of each pig in 2001 is attributable to everything that has affected trade this year, which includes checkoff-funded Foreign Market Development activities, USDA export assistance money and the Foot-and-Mouth disease outbreaks in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world,” he points out.

The official trade data for the 10-month period shows that pork and pork variety meat exports rose 22% by volume and 13% by value. Figure 1 illustrates growth since 1990.

The BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) situation has kept pork exports to Japan stable, says John Cravens, National Pork Board director of foreign market development. During October, Japanese consumption of pork rose 13%, while beef consumption fell 60%, due to BSE concerns.

U.S. Meat Export Federation estimates U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports to Japan increased 19% for 2001.

For January to October 2001, the U.S. exported 8.27% of production and imported 5.08% of production. Net exports of pork reached 3.19% of production, up from 1.79% for the same period in 2000.

The New NPPC Unveiled

Editor's Note: A period of confusion and uncertainty has reigned over the U.S. pork industry for the past 16 months. Set in motion by a controversial referendum on the mandatory pork checkoff, the outcome was challenged, and finally a settlement agreement was negotiated that allowed the mandatory program to continue.

The agreement stipulated a distinct separation of the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). In our January issue, we presented an update on restructuring efforts (See “Industry Infrastructure Revamped,” p. 6) and some thoughts from the new National Pork Board CEO, Steve Murphy (See “New CEO's Business Approach,” p. 6). This month, we detail the “new” NPPC structure and purpose.

Since 1987, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) had served as the general contractor to the National Pork Board, providing pork promotion, consumer education and research programs supported by checkoff funds.

“We had the contract to provide the programs that the checkoff provided for,” explains NPPC President Barb Determan. It was not an exclusive contract, however. “In fact, the Pork Board took bids from different groups, not only for the general contractor position, but also for sub-contracts,” she explains.

Before and since the mandatory checkoff, NPPC has also led the charge in addressing public-policy related, legislative and regulatory issues funded solely by non-checkoff (unrestricted) funds.

The dual-purpose NPPC troubled the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it became a driving force in the drafting of the separation agreement.

SO-10 Initiates Restructuring

Delegates to the 2001 NPPC annual meeting, armed with the separation agreement, passed a “shareholder outreach” resolution (SO-10) that deals directly with overhauling NPPC's organizational structure. A 39-member task force included pork producers, allied industry representatives and state pork producer groups. Recognizing that NPPC would now be focused on public policy and regulatory issues, the task force was charged with formulating a “new” NPPC, concentrating on five key areas:

  1. Funding

  2. Deliverables to the membership

  3. Membership Structure

  4. Governance (purpose)

  5. Organizational priorities

Chaired by pork producer Roy Henry, Longford, KS, the task force recently released a “final draft” of their recommendations. Delegates to the NPPC annual meeting in Denver, Feb. 28-March 2, will act on the proposal.

Deliverables to Members

Key programs and services proposed by the task force focus on these key areas:

  • Public Policy — Establish and maintain an effective, national, political, legislative and regulatory presence representing the interests of pork producers and the pork industry. Primary public policy issues would include food safety, the environment, swine health and welfare and world trade.

    “When producers think about policy, they tend to think in terms of strictly legislative issues. But we also need to recognize the regulatory challenges,” says Determan. She lists environmental regulations, animal health issues, legitimate animal welfare research and biosecurity risks as examples.

    The biggest challenge faced by NPPC will be generating ample funds to address these key issues, Determan says.

  • Advocacy communications — “There is an urgent need to represent the pork industry to the popular press — the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc. — to be sure we are getting the right information out to policy makers, regulators, key federal agencies, foreign governments and the general public,” says Determan.

    “In the past, we've tried to represent all pork producers. Now, we will represent those who choose to play,” explains Henry.

    Determan adds: “We don't want to exclude anybody, but producers also have to understand that it's the members that are going to direct that activity. It's not the old NPPC where everybody paid checkoff, therefore everybody was represented.”

  • Pork Industry Action Committee — The pork industry must have an appropriately funded political action committee (PAC) for use on the federal level. “PACs are part of effective communications with our lawmakers, letting them know we are concerned about whether they are representing us the way we want,” Determan says.

  • Legal Coordination — Although the new organization does not intend to provide legal representation for individual members, it proposes to coordinate legal-challenge information significant to the pork industry, such as ongoing legal cases and case law. The goal is to be involved in precedent-setting legal cases that threaten to adversely affect members.

  • Certification and Training — Anticipating that pork producers will someday need to certify or verify various performance standards or regulations in areas such as the environment, food safety or animal welfare, the task force proposes the new organization provide such certification/auditing systems. Environmental Management Solutions (EMS), LLC, a wholly owned, for-profit subsidiary of NPPC, has been formed for this purpose. (See sidebar.)

  • Proprietary research — Unlike checkoff-funded research that must be made available to all contributing producers, some targeted research utilizing non-checkoff funds would be reserved for members only. “Our whole purpose for proprietary research is that there will be some issues that the Pork Board doesn't feel they can tackle but that are very consequential to our industry,” Determan explains.

  • State Coordination — Deliverables and services must be coordinated with state association and council members.

Who Will Be Represented?

This was admittedly a dicey question for the task force. Striving to include all segments of the pork chain, they see membership as a “pay-to-play” proposition and thus proposed these principles:

  • Pork producers (all sizes and types), input suppliers/allied industry, packers and processors may join. Benefits, services and voting privileges will be available to members only.

    “We had a great cross-section of the industry in the task force and I felt there was actually a compassion by the small guy for the large producers and vice versa. They respected each others' positions,” notes Henry.

  • Pork producers must have a majority, but not exclusive, voice.

  • Shares and membership will be based on the prior year's financial participation. Shares are established by state contribution, not by individual producer contribution.

    In a state like Iowa, with the largest number of hogs raised and probably the largest number of producers, their state shares will be impacted by total contribution.

  • No one state or entity may have a majority share of the votes at the delegate session.

Membership Categories

Committed to include all segments of the industry's product, processing and distribution chain, the task force proposed these membership categories:

  • Pork Producers — All manner and types of business arrangements are eligible. It generally includes those participating in “implied consent” or “voluntary remittance” programs. Membership will be made available to those who raise pigs but do not sell them, such as a contract grower or employee.

  • State Associations or Councils, Regional or Area Units — To be determined in the new by-laws.

  • Input Suppliers/Allied Industry — All companies, organizations or other business entities that provide goods and services to the pork industry.

  • Packers and Processors — Cooperatives, independent and integrated pork packers, as well as companies that add value to pork and pork products.

  • Retail/Food Services — All domestic and foreign entities engaged in the distribution and sale of pork and pork products.

  • Trade — Exporters and importers of pork and pork products.


The primary sources of income for NPPC are revenues from the World Pork Expo (estimated $1 million annually); contributions from industry stakeholders ($1 million annually includes allied industry's $300,000 and Packer/Processor Industry Council's $700,000); $300,000 contributed through state assessments; and another $300,000 from rent on the NPPC-owned building rented by the National Pork Board (total = $2.6 million).

The task force estimated NPPC needs roughly $7.3 million annually “to be effective,” therefore leaving a $4.7 million funding shortfall. The simplest solution would be to collect 10¢/$100 market value through a voluntary contribution program or a reallocation of dollars currently collected.

NPPC has no authority to reallocate checkoff contributions. However, pork producer groups in some states have passed resolutions that call for reducing the checkoff rate from 45¢/$100 market value to 35¢, then allowing that dime to be collected through an “implied consent” program similar to the old voluntary checkoff program. Those funds could then be directed to the NPPC as unrestricted funds. The state resolutions will be brought before the National Pork Board delegates at the annual meeting.

Whether the 10¢ is collected through a separate voluntary program or a reallocation of the current per-market hog contribution, roughly $10 million could be collected on the 100 million market hogs sold annually. Using that figure for budget projections only, the task force predicted no more than 70% participation in the implied consent proposals, dropping contributions to $7 million. Assuming at least 35% would be returned to states ($2.45 million), $4.55 million could be added to NPPC's annual budget, bringing them near the $7.3 million budget projected for 2002.

In their budget breakdown, they estimated about two-thirds of the funds would be used for program expenses, while the remaining would cover administration costs, wages, travel, governance and meeting expenses.

Chairman's Closing Thoughts

“What's in the document is important, but what's most important is the attitude with which we take this document forward,” explains Henry. “We can change the document in the future if we find out that we have erred. This is still a work in progress.”

EMS Up and Running

Environmental Management Solutions (EMS), a limited liability company formed to provide thirdparty oversight of on-farm environmental assessment programs, relocated to new offices in Des Moines, IA, on Jan. 1. EMS is a wholly owned, for-profit subsidiary of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

EMS was formed in response to a push from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the On-Farm Assessment & Environmental Review (OFAER) program available to all species of livestock, explains EMS President/CEO Earl Dotson.

The OFAER program, funded by EPA through $5 million in grants from America's Clean Water Foundation (ACWF) in 1999 and 2000, was originally developed to provide a comprehensive evaluation of water quality, odor risks and other environmental challenges associated with pork production systems. Pork producers could request a confidential assessment of the environmental risks in their operation at no charge. Development of the OFAER program was also supported by checkoff funds from the National Pork Board.

“At the end of the 1999 grant, the EPA told us they could no longer give this money to pork exclusively,” Dotson explains. “But, from a practical standpoint, producers of other livestock probably wouldn't be keen on having the pork assessment program applied to their operations. Therefore, NPPC staff began developing assessment programs for dairy, poultry and beef feedlots.” However, doubts began to surface that programs developed using pork checkoff dollars, provided for in the Pork Act, could be applied to other species.

In the summer of 2000, the NPPC began investigating the possibility of forming a limited liability company (LLC). They approached the National Pork Board about attaining the rights to the OFAER project, fully realizing that the program was the intellectual property of the Pork Board because checkoff dollars were used in its development.

Two major challenges loomed — establishing the value of the program, and how to develop a reasonable payment schedule for a startup company.

“The NPPC and the National Pork Board, with the help of legal counsel, established the value using the amount of checkoff dollars spent to develop it — roughly $1.2 million,” explains Dotson. Of course, neither NPPC nor EMS had the funds to buy it outright. “They set up a payment schedule using a ‘time value of money’ basis to determine the length of the loan. It's how we all bought our farms — but instead of [paying] interest, we used time value of money,” he continues.

Naturally, both parties wanted EMS to be successful, so they set up a 15-year payback. Payments weren't to start until the end of the fourth year. “Essentially, this gives us a perpetual license to the program,” Dotson says. “If we cannot pay it back, the intellectual property goes back to the Pork Board.”

The LLC became functional in Nov. 2000 and elected a board of managers in Jan. 2001. The intellectual property was officially licensed to NPPC, who in turn licensed it to EMS. The entire agreement was reviewed and approved by AMS (Agricultural Marketing Services), the regulatory arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that oversees all commodity checkoff programs.

Why Bother?

“EMS was formed to protect the intellectual property pork producers had paid for through their checkoff contributions,” explains Dotson. “I think pork was 18 months to three years ahead of all of the other species, environmentally. It's to our advantage to bring the other species to the same level as we are.” And by sharing the program, other livestock species avoid duplication of time and developmental costs, while pork producers are provided the opportunity to reclaim some of their investment, he adds.

EMS Today

“Our goal, as stated in the EMS mission statement, is to move agriculture to a scientific-based, economically viable and politically acceptable industry,” Dotson notes.

He sees EMS's primary business opportunities as:

  • On-farm assessments;

  • Audits — environmental and possibly animal welfare and food safety, in the future.

  • Education and training — strictly environmental; short-term service contracts with the National Pork Board provides seminar oversight on a cost reimbursement basis only;

  • Government grants — continue to apply for ACWF grants, plus others; and

  • Environmental Consulting — planned for the future.

EMS currently has seven full-time employees and three contract employees. Dotson estimates about 75% of their operating income will come from on-farm assessments of pork operations, eventually with other species. The $5 million ACWF grant, covering the cost of assessments, runs through July 2003.

For further information about EMS, call (515) 278-5835, or write: Environmental Management Systems, P.O. Box 14586, Des Moines, IA 50322.
— Dale Miller

Dierks Named New CEO

Neil Dierks has been named the new Chief Executive Officer of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). He succeeds Al Tank, who resigned on Oct. 15.

Dierks, with the NPPC since 1990, has served in a series of senior executive positions including executive director of operations, vice-president for research and education and senior vice-president for programs. Prior to joining NPPC, Dierks was the special activities director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the marketing director for the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.

A graduate of Iowa State University, Dierks grew up on a livestock farm in eastern Iowa and remains involved in a family farming operation.

“The NPPC Board wanted a candidate who understood pork production and was equipped with the vision, knowledge and expertise to lead our industry into a confident and prosperous future,” says NPPC President Barb Determan.

Dierks will work from the Des Moines, IA, and the Washington, D.C. offices.
— Dale Miller

Feeders Extend Manure Retention, Value

Growing state regulatory pressure and difficulty in managing earthen storage structures are two reasons pork producers in Iowa increasingly use deep manure pits.

“Those producers who want to maximize manure retention, thereby reducing time spent pumping out pits, have chosen to install wet-dry feeders,” says Kris Kohl, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agricultural engineer. An added incentive is that less pumping also reduces nuisance complaints.

Switching Feeders

“We have had a lot of producers with deep-pit buildings move to using wet-dry feeders,” he says. These feeders are easier to clean up because there are usually less moving parts than conventional dry feeders, and they don't need to be removed from the gating during washing, he adds.

But he notes a more common reason for the switch: Wet-dry feeders seem to produce about two-thirds as much manure by volume, meaning that the manure is more concentrated.

“In some of these deep pits, we are running up to 80 lb. of nitrogen per thousand gallons of manure,” observes Kohl. “That makes that manure fairly valuable as a fertilizer source and allows producers to extract more value.”

And that value is enhanced when fuel and fertilizer (nitrogen) costs skyrocket as they did in 2001, he points out.

Also, it makes the manure more attractive for neighbors who might need it for crops. Kohl explains: “With wet-dry feeders, if farmers look at the nutrient value vs. the application costs, they are looking at probably three times as much value as the manure costs to apply (return ratio of about 3:1).”

In northwest Iowa, where Kohl is located (Storm Lake), it is common practice for farmers who receive “free” manure to pay all pumping and hauling costs.

Table 1. Manure Pit Sampling: Total Nitrogen Pounds per 1,000 Gallons
Deep Pit
Top of
1 49.4 48.1 39.3 43.5 41.6
2 50.0 56.1 49.8 50.4 58.0
3 53.4 61.5 47.2 41.3 58.4
4 55.6 48.7 47.4 45.3 57.8
5 61.1 68.4 71.4 62.1 61.1
6 55.5 56.1 55.9 58.0 60.7
7 48.1 65.1 57.0 59.8 57.7
8 64.4 62.4 54.2 53.2 51.4
9 54.2 48.3 53.4 67.7 59.5
10 70.1 65.3 70.0 68.4 70.8

Table 2. Manure Pit Sampling: Total Phosphorus Pounds per 1,000 Gallons
Deep Pit
Top of
1 36.2 48.9 28.8 37.2 38.5
2 26.1 38.3 26.4 23.4 53.8
3 44.5 55.5 21.2 13.3 65.4
4 51.9 21.7 17.3 17.0 65.6
5 62.4 63.2 39.2 54.1 48.1
6 30.9 25.3 26.2 25.4 46.6
7 37.0 63.7 49.1 58.9 53.0
8 72.7 49.5 33.6 34.9 31.3
9 81.4 42.6 55.4 70.4 81.7
10 35.4 30.7 32.9 36.2 36.2

Kohl says that 3:1 return ratio is based on wet-dry feeders tested this past year on about 65 sites with deep manure pits. He compared results with the going rate for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium at the local co-op elevator.

Watch Savings

Differences in manure nutrient value can vary greatly between individual pits. It depends on how much pressure washing a producer does. The more washing, the more water in the pit, he explains.

“Modern wet-dry feeders greatly reduce water wastage and also do not need much washing,” states Kohl. In comparison, nipple waterers that are properly maintained and adjusted for pressure waste much less than those that constantly leak and are set at a high pressure. Swinging waterers typically waste about half as much water as standard nipple waterers, he suggests. Most of the wet-dry feeders used in the study were Aqua Tube feeders, sold by Swine Service Specialists of Lyons, NE. Call (800) 654-1378 for more information.

Figures 1 and 2 detail the results of the tests conducted by Kohl on swine finishing manure in both wet/dry and dry feeder operations. The manure samples were collected from pits two weeks prior to land application by probing the pit or taking a sample off the top. Samples were also collected during pumping and hauling from the first, middle and last loads.

Best Sampling Method

Both Kohl and fellow ISU Extension agricultural engineer Greg Brenneman analyzed data for the best sampling method for deep manure pits.

Brenneman's results are based on 10 finishing pits (see Tables 1 and 2). Five samples were collected from each pit to test for nitrogen and phosphorus. A profile or probe sample, as well as a surface sample collected with a pail, were both taken at least two weeks prior to land application. The remaining three samples were collected from manure tank wagons: one from the first load applied to land, one from the middle load when the pit was half full, and one from the last load applied to the land.

Brenneman concludes finishing pit testing discounts a couple of major assumptions.

“There is less variability in the nutrient content of manure in deep-pit barns than was previously thought,” he says. “The profile or probe sample was assumed to be the superior way to collect a sample. Since most producers are applying swine manure based on its nitrogen content, and the top sample is a better predictor of nitrogen content, producers should use this sampling technique.”

Prior to land application, the pit should be agitated to suspend solids and produce a uniform slurry, notes Kohl. Care must be taken when agitating a pit to prevent gas releases that can kill pigs or humans.


“The results of this study should be good news for producers, because it only requires a pail to collect the samples,” concludes Kohl. “Collecting and analyzing for nitrogen content weeks before the application can help pork producers fine-tune their manure management.”

These two research projects were supported by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture based in Ames, IA.

Wasting Disease Hits Late Weaners

There is a relatively new syndrome in swine that is still being defined. Postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) was recognized in the late 1990s and is still being described today.

Initial reports of PMWS problems began in Canada, and soon after were seen in the U.S. PMWS is also recognized in Europe and elsewhere. Mortality is variable and can be up to 25% or more in some units.

The clinical condition is basically synonymous with the name:

Postweaning — it almost always strikes pigs after they are weaned;

Multisystemic — many organ systems are involved;

Wasting — pigs appear to waste away; and

Syndrome — diseases associated with PMWS include porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2), pneumonia linked to porcine respiratory disease complex and, to a lesser extent, diarrhea associated with enteritis.

Common Disease Signs

The clinical picture in most cases involves late nursery pigs and growing hogs (5 to 16 weeks of age). Generally, the first thing that is noticed is that pigs are falling behind the rest of the group, thus the term “wasting.” Weight loss is the most common, consistent finding of PMWS.

Since this syndrome involves many organ systems (typically lungs and less often liver, kidney and pancreas), clinical signs can be variable. Other signs can include listlessness, anorexia, diarrhea and respiratory symptoms.

Postmortem examination can reveal gross lesions, the most striking of which is the presence of greatly enlarged lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are part of the pig's immune system. We often see enlarged livers and in some pigs icterus (yellow color). Thickening of lungs that do not collapse at the time of postmortem is also common.

Diagnostic laboratory submissions are essential to finding a diagnosis. Tests should include virology, bacteriology and histopathology (fixed tissues).

Mixed Infections

There appears to be a common theme in that PCV2 is often involved in these cases.

Some pigs test positive for porcine circovirus, but show no clinical signs.

Bacterial secondary invaders are common. The secondary invaders are the usual ones that we see with other viral diseases in swine, including Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus suis and Hemophilus parasuis.

Histopathology often reveals lesions in the lymph nodes, liver, kidneys and lungs.

Syndrome Management

No control measures are available for the most common PCV2 concern of this syndrome. Researchers are working on possible farm-specific vaccines that would immunize against PCV2.

Since PCV2 immunity can't be enhanced at this time, producers must manage it with good husbandry practices. We advise:

  • Decrease exposure by cleaning and disinfecting between groups;

  • Implement and maintain all-in, all-out pig flow throughout;

  • Control secondary infections by having your veterinarian conduct antibiotic sensitivity testing on your farm and treat animals appropriately; and

  • Lower stress and maintain a good environment by using proper stocking density. Establish sick pens and consider trying gruel feeding to encourage feed consumption.

Case Study

A 500-sow, farrow-to-finish farm, using single-site production, began to see nursery pigs fall behind. The first signs were seen in 5-week-old gaunt pigs with a slight cough. This condition continued until about 12 weeks of age. Mortality ranged from 5 to 12%.

Postmortem examination revealed greatly enlarged lymph nodes in affected pigs.

Laboratory work yielded a PCV2 isolate. Other secondary organisms were isolated and antibiotic sensitivity patterns recorded. Streptococcus suis types 2 and 7 and Haemophilus parasuis were commonly isolated from nursery pigs. Pasteurella multocida type A was commonly seen in finishers.

Management revolves around providing a good environment in buildings, emphasizing airflow and humidity control. Purging medication based on antibiotic sensitivities to control secondary invaders was instituted. In the nursery, water medication was used at 5 and 6¼ weeks postweaning for two days. In grow-finish, the farm uses a rotation of 10 mg./lb. of chlortetracycline during Weeks 1 and 3 in the finisher, and 100 grams/ton of tylosin during Week 2. From there, the farm uses bacitracin as a growth promoter.

Mortality has decreased to 3 to 5% in recent groups. We believe this improvement is due to environmental management and the therapy program.

Recouping Manure's Value

With profit margins on market hogs shrinking and commercial fertilizer prices bouncing around, Christensen Farms is capitalizing on the value of another commodity: manure.

“Who would have thought we could sell manure, and that it would be a hot commodity?” asks Dan Noreen, vice president of business development for Christensen Farms. Based in Sleepy Eye, MN, the company consists of 75,000 sows, with farrow-to-finish operations in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

Noreen estimates the company began recouping the manure pumping, hauling and application costs at their company-owned sites, including sow farms, nurseries and wean-to-finish barns, in 1997. Prior to that, Christensen Farms gave manure away.

“We found early on that there was very little experience with manure in the country, so we gave it away. We were paying for someone to take our manure and they got the benefit from it,” he explains. “As the margins got tighter, we just couldn't give away the valuable byproduct.”

Technological advances, including the use of geographic information systems (GIS) have helped to establish a value for the manure, he says.

“Technology has allowed us to compete with commercial fertilizer,” he says. “Now, with what we know about the [manure] nutrients, and with better application equipment, we can apply it more precisely.”

How It Works

Once a barn site is identified for construction, Christensen Farms negotiates with local crop producers to use their cropland for manure application. Over the last 10 years, the agreements have changed. At first, the company paid for the hauling. Now, the crop farmer covers the cost of hauling and application of the manure.

For example, the agreement may allow the crop producer to buy the manure for a percentage of the value of its nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This price is based on his local commercial fertilizer price and the cost of application. The length of the agreement varies.

At many of the sites, the company is recovering between 50% and 60% of the nutrient value of manure. The ultimate goal is to recover 100% of the nutrient value. “We have to be able to create value for the byproduct,” Noreen says.

Christensen Farms employees three, on-staff agronomists to help crop producers understand the nutrient value in manure. “Education is the key to creating value,” Noreen adds.

Agronomist Dan Schmitz's responsibilities include managing the manure handling at company-owned sites. That includes assisting with permitting of facilities, developing manure management plans with cooperating crop farmers, working with farm managers to control the volume and quality of manure, insuring environmental compliance and identifying services related to manure management.

Schmitz's involvement with crop producers begins when a producer expresses interest in receiving manure from a Christensen Farms' site.

A manure management plan is developed for the farm based on soil fertility, expected manure nutrient production and the production goals of the crop producer. Using that information, a manure agreement is drawn up between the company and the crop producer.

This is all done before excavation on a new site begins, he assures.

Christensen Farms also identifies a local commercial applicator who has the right equipment for the job, whether it's a tank hauler or an umbilical hose system. Sometimes the hauler is a nearby producer who does custom work on the side.

Schmitz also does manure and soil sampling, recommends application rates and does spot checks on custom applicators who haul and apply the nutrients.

“Local custom haulers often know the neighbors, understand local conditions and how the farmer wants the nutrients applied,” Schmitz says.

The company works with 20 different commercial applicators; most work on multiple Christensen Farms sites.

After harvest and manure application, company agronomists review the records with the crop farmer.

“We report back with a farm visit and an invoice of manure costs, so they feel comfortable with what was done,” he says. “We build value into manure. It's not just the nutrients, but also expert advice.”

Christensen Farms agronomist Marsha Van Laere coordinates the company's GIS data, including field boundaries, soil fertility, environmentally sensitive areas, farming practices, crop information and manure nutrient analysis.

“Our goal is to have all fields where we apply manure mapped, and to use that information to help the producer,” Schmitz says. “The value of the manure is delivered with information.”

Showing the Value

In order to show crop producers the value of using manure on their fields, Christensen Farms, in cooperation with Gary Malzer, University of Minnesota soil fertility specialist, set up a test plot on 16 acres next to the company feedmill, truck shop and offices.

In the fall of 1998, manure from a finishing barn was applied in replicated strips at five different levels, including:

  • no manure;
  • 2,000 gal./acre;
  • 4,000 gal./acre;
  • 6,000 gal./acre;
  • 8,000 gal./acre; and
  • commercial fertilizer at agronomic rates.

Corn was grown on the test plot in 1999, soybeans in 2000. Then, to test the residual effects on yield and grain quality, corn was again grown in 2001 (no additional manure was added).

Manure application rates at crop yields are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Treatment Averages and Crop Yields (bu./acre)
Rate, gal./acre
0 2,000 4,000 6,000 8,000 Fertilizer
1999, bu./acre 99 168 182 193 187 168
2000,* bu./acre 38.9 49.6 51.1 51.1 50 NA
2001,* bu./acre 126 137 138 144 138 NA
1999 and 2001, corn; 2000, soybeans.
ˆUniversity fertilizer recommendation
*No manure applied, 2001 corn yields averaged over fertilizer treatments.
NA=Not measured

Glen Christensen, a principal owner in Christensen Farms, manages the crop side of the family's farm operation. He has been using field plots to evaluate management practices including seed selection, planting rates and manure effects.

To maximize the yield potential of the farm, 22-in. rows are used. Data collected with a Global Positioning System (GPS)-guided yield monitor from farm and test plots over the past four years have confirmed yield increases of 9 to 13 bu./acre for corn and 3 to 6 bu./acre for soybeans, over land fertilized with commercial fertilizer.

“The reality is that the manure has value — public and private data proves that,” Christensen says. “What's reassuring to me is the interest from non-livestock producers in the manure's value. It grows every season.”

Higher fertilizer costs in the 2001 growing season pushed interest in manure to even higher levels.

“There are farm sites where I have to turn away people asking for manure; there just wasn't any more to be had,” Schmitz says.

The field days also get the producers, of both pigs and corn, to think about how their commodities are connected.

“We specialize in producing pigs, but not necessarily in growing crops,” adds Noreen. “We help to create synergy with our corn growers.”

Contract growers and crop farmers who sell corn to the feedmill are invited to field days that include educational seminars on topics of interest to both crop and livestock growers.

The company needs those corn growers. Christensen Farms buys the 12 million bu. of corn it processes each year at the Sleepy Eye feedmill. The mill serves all of the Minnesota farms, and most of the company and contract farms in Iowa. The Nebraska farms, purchased recently from National Farms, are served by another mill in that state.

Environmental Balance

Ultimately, Schmitz has two goals: to help Christensen Farms realize the full value of manure by delivering its nutrient value to crop producers, and help crop producers manage their corn and soybean crops in the most environmentally friendly way.

“As we build value in the manure, we are helping producers optimize the return from the manure and ensuring environmental stewardship. Ultimately, that will ensure our ability to do business in that neighborhood in the future,” Schmitz concludes.

Lagoon Closures Are Costly, Require Planning

With North Carolina State University (NCSU) researching new options to replace the traditional lagoon and sprayfield system, agricultural engineers have begun analyzing methods and costs for closing lagoons, storage basins and holding ponds.

The costs of closing are variable because of several factors. They include how well the lagoon was sited, constructed and maintained, and how much sludge and solids have built up over years of use, according to Don Jones, agricultural engineer at Purdue University.

Jones and four other land grant university agricultural engineers have authored a white paper on lagoon closures for NCSU's National Center for Manure and Waste Management.

“There is no common lagoon,” says Jones. “Most are different, even from those lagoons right down the road. The commonality is that they have nothing in common.”

A cost analysis of eight closures in North Carolina in 1998 revealed the cost/1,000 gal. storage space ranged from $5 to $32. Therefore, the cost to close a 750,000 gal. lagoon would range from $3,750 to $24,000.

Clean Out

There are three zones of manure in a basin or lagoon. The top layer is liquid, which is pumped out regularly. Proper handling of the bottom two layers, sludge and solids, is key to closing or converting the structure in an environmentally sensitive manner, Jones says (See Figure 1).

“Almost all of the nutrients that go into a well-sited, well-maintained lagoon end up one or two feet above the bottom of the lagoon as sludge,” he says.

Sludge and solids build up in a lagoon at the following rates:

  • Nursery - 3 cu. ft./pig/yr;

  • Grow/finish — 16 cu. ft./pig/yr;

  • Farrow-to-finish — 53 cu. ft./pig/ yr;

  • Farrow-to-wean — 14 cu. ft./pig/yr.

Jones estimates the cost of pumping and land-applying sludge at 30¢ to 38¢/cu. ft.

Cleaning out the sludge by running heavy equipment on the lagoon liner is not a good option. The engineers stress that this would have negative environmental effects.

Instead, Jones suggests a method developed in North Carolina. A bulldozer and tractor with a PTO agitator confine the sludge to a small portion of the lagoon, where it can be agitated, removed and applied at agronomic rates (See Figure 2).

After cleaning out the liquid, sludge and solids, producers have a number of options for their earthen structure. They include:

  1. Eliminate the structure by diverting all runoff and pipes, cleaning it out and then backfilling with soil and planting a cover crop. This option has advantages in that heavy equipment is needed only once and there is no expense in maintaining the structure. The disadvantage is that the producer must find a way to use all the nutrients stored in the sludge at one time, which requires a large number of crop acres for land application.

  2. Conversion to a pond, following the same steps and setting the maximum water level by adding a spillway or standpipe. In order to be used as a pond, the lagoon must be rinsed with clean water at least once.

  3. Breaching the berm can be used in hilly areas where the lagoon structure will naturally drain runoff water. Loading pipes must be diverted and the contents removed before breaching begins.

Environmental Risk

The environmental risk of closing a lagoon or basin lies with the sludge, Jones stresses.

“We assume that the risk is going to remain as long as the sludge is in the lagoon,” he says. “It doesn't end there because the sludge has a high level of phosphorus, salts and heavy metals, so we have to be careful when and where it is land-applied.”

The sludge must be tested before land application. On average, it contains 13% total solids, has 22 lb. of nitrogen, 5.5 lb. of ammonia and 49 lb. of phosphorus per 1,000 gal., but this varies widely from lagoon to lagoon.

The engineers stress that a site-specific plan and nutrient testing are needed to evaluate the environmental impact of closing or converting a lagoon or basin.