The National Park Producers Council has called the African swine fever (ASF) crisis in Asia the greatest opportunity for U.S. producers in history. Now, a Chinese government release claims ASF has been contained and that blockade orders in some 24 provinces have been lifted. Regardless of that, the world's largest hog herd has a long road to recovery.
Pork production in the U.S. has been on an incredible run. USDA's latest hog inventory counted 75.5 million hogs. That's the most since USDA began the June survey in 1964. The president of the National Pork Producers Council, David Herring, recently spoke before a House Agriculture Committee hearing. Herring said, "We've gone from 1987 as a net importer of pork to today, where we export 25% of all the product grown here."
While the numbers are up, sales have been a challenge. Herring said, "China is the largest producer, consumer, and importer of pork in the world, but at a 62% tariff rate, U.S. producers are losing $8 per animal or $1 billion dollars on an annualized basis."
China is also dealing with an unprecedented challenge in its own herd. Dan Basse of AgResource Company said, "We know that Chinese food inflation in the last month was up 8%. That's the highest in roughly four years, so we know there's a need on China's part to have more protein imports."
According to China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, China's pig herd shrank by 25.8% in June compared to June of last year. The sow herd, which is what impacts future production, is down 26.7%.
AgDay's Clinton Griffiths spoke with Dr. Andres Perez. He's a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota. He's an expert in diseases like African swine fever and says biosecurity is important. "We have never seen a situation like this with this particular disease, said Dr. Perez. "African swine fever is extremely difficult to control because the virus survives under very extreme conditions, so the virus will survive extreme heat, extreme cold, it will survive in contaminated clothes over extended period of times."
Biosecurity is tightening in China at farms, feed mills and in transportation, as evidenced by increasing sales of disinfectants and truck washes.
"The Chinese will just have to live with ASF," said Dan Basse. "We don't think a vaccine or anything will be readily available to stop their problems. We think this is something that will prevail for the next five to 10 years."
Which is also a reason to keep ASF from ever finding a way to the U.S. "Any given day we have one million pigs on the road, so if we get an introduction in the right place it will be very difficult to contain African swine fever," said David Herring.
For now, it's an opportunity and many see it as a chance to step in and fill the freezers of countries dealing with the disease. Dan Basse told AgDay, "If we see the Chinese stepping forward and making U.S. purchases it will be a shot in the arm and we'll be right back at the old highs again."
Even though previous reports have said a vaccine could take up to eight years to develop, Dr. Perez says progress is being made on multiple fronts.
* A previous version of this article identified Dan Basse instead of David Herring as the source of this quote: "China is the largest producer, consumer, and importer of pork in the world, but at a 62% tariff rate, U.S. producers are losing $8 per animal or $1 billion dollars on an annualized basis." It also identified the number as $1 trillion instead of $1 billion. We regret the error.