Pork Industry Hopes for the Best, Plans for the Worst

The science, research and innovation that goes into producing a pound of pork today is incredible. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to pursue this role as editor of Farm Journal’s PORK. I’m not sure there’s a greater group of minds in all of agriculture than the movers and shakers of the U.S. swine industry. And quite simply, there’s no better job than this one to find out what makes these leaders tick and to glean from their knowledge.

Every day I get to talk with amazing people who tirelessly pursue excellence — for the good not only of their company, but also for global pork production. I just got off the phone with Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC). We visited about SHIC’s work plan for 2019. If you haven’t looked at the research projects they have planned, go check it out.

A Reason to Celebrate
As he thinks about the year ahead, he’s full of reasons to be optimistic and reasons to be cautious. Sundberg says he hopes for the best and plans for the worst. He’s looking forward to new opportunities to analyze big data sets to help advance the needle on swine health.

“I’m excited about being able to provide information back to producers as quickly as possible that can help them on their farms,” Sundberg says. 

For the past couple of years, Sundberg and others have worked to standardize the way major veterinary diagnostic laboratories catalog and report testing results. SHIC can now take information from diagnostic labs and look for regional trends and merging diseases in nearly real-time, he says. 

“If a disease is showing up in Georgia and they send it to Lab A to be analyzed while the same disease shows up in Pennsylvania and gets reported to Lab B, we can now look at what’s going on throughout the country to determine if there are trends taking place or issues arising,” Sundberg says.

Think Globally, Act Locally
When I asked Sundberg what had him on edge this year, he couldn’t deny African swine fever (ASF) keeps him up at night. 

“We’ve heard a lot lately coming out of China through official channels about how ASF is getting under control,” Sundberg says. “The unofficial word from experienced people over there is that this virus is underreported, continues to circulate and is having a big effect on China.”

Sundberg says he’s erring on the side of people with experience on the ground right now. The pressure this puts on the U.S. pork industry is nothing to dismiss.

“I don’t see ASF pressures abating at all,” he says. “The global marketplace only heightens that pressure for us any time we have a virus moving around quickly to other parts of the world. My key message for producers is to think globally and act locally. You can watch what’s happening globally, but the best way to prevent introduction of disease here in the U.S. is to act locally. Make biosecurity a priority on your farm every day. That’s the most important thing we can do.” 

After a few weeks of traveling through the Midwest and catching up with producers, thought leaders and business owners, I’m more confident than ever that our industry will continue to rise up to the challenge to produce the best product possible despite the challenging circumstances that will inevitably come our way. 

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