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Producer priorities drive NPB swine-health research

There’s no shortage of swine-health issues that would benefit from research investment, but when it comes to allocating Pork Checkoff funds, producers make the decisions.

“Our priority is to protect the herd health of our producers,” said Lisa Becton, DVM, swine-health information and research director for the National Pork Board (NPB).

NPB’s swine-health committee is comprised of 20 producers who select the projects and distribute their share of Checkoff research dollars each year. The overreaching guide is to address issues that impact US swine herds today but also to prepare for challenges that aren’t currently at play, such as foreign animal diseases.

Although the committee meets by phone every month to stay abreast of real-time developments and needs, they review and select swine-health proposals twice a year. One session is targeted at porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) research, and the other focuses more on general disease of swine.

‘Herd dynamic’

For PRRS, the priorities are to understand the epidemiology and spread of the PRRS virus. “We know there are different ways that the virus is transmitted, and we’re trying to understand the herd dynamic,” Becton said. “How is it moving from one section to another — from gestation to farrowing to finishing? And, how do we break that transmission?”

The other constant regarding PRRS is to find new diagnostic tools and options. Oral-fluid sampling is one such example, but now processing fluids from slaughter hogs is gaining attention.

Regarding the second call for research requests, the priorities may change, but influenza, Mycoplasma pneumonia, Strep suis and rotavirus are among the recent topics. Becton points to studies that address how to acclimatize Mycoplasma-negative gilts to move into a Mycoplasma-positive herd.  Another research project investigated how best to develop rotavirus immunity in baby pigs without a vaccine. “Those are some practical things that producers want to know,” she added.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus remains a concern, but it seems to wax and wane over time. NPB has a PED Working Group dedicated to monitoring the disease through the Swine Health Monitoring Program orchestrated by the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC). In fact, PED was the impetus behind the industry organizing SHIC nearly 5 years ago in an attempt to stay on top of emerging disease risks.

‘Extremely contagious’

“We know that PED is an extremely contagious disease and is easily transmitted, so we’re focusing on biosecurity efforts,” Becton noted. “We’re also focusing on feed because we know PED may have snuck in (to the US) on feed and ingredients, and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen with other diseases.”

There also are times and topics requiring special attention, such as a rising trend in sow mortality. Among the efforts that Becton’s swine-health committee is working on, in conjunction with NPB’s animal-science and animal-welfare committees, is to fund a study at Iowa State University to categorize why, when and what type of death losses are occurring.

The researchers also are investigating the epidemiology involved in sow mortality. NPB’s committees have committed $1 million to find answers, while F-Farm — a foundation for food and agricultural research — has contributed another $1 million to expand the research to include a broader study of pig mortality.

Maximizing research dollars to find answers for producers on the farm is the driver behind NPB’s research efforts. “We work with USDA and a range of organizations and entities,” Becton noted. “We try to combine our dollars to maximize the benefits to producers” and to prevent overlap.


Posted on February 22, 2019

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US producers and veterinarians have seen an influx of different types of influenza viruses in the last 10 to 15 years, and that is a major reason why influenza is more difficult to control.

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