The hog market put in one of its best performances last week as the number of African swine fever (ASF) reports climbed in China. On AgriTalk, Chip Flory talked with ProFarmer’s Jim Wiesemeyer, RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney and Iowa farmer Tim Burrack about the threat of ASF hitting U.S. soil.
“It’s immensely concerning, and I’m not sure that we (North America) have fully grasped how concerning it is,” Haney says. “Let's be honest, the only way to control this disease is eradication of herds. There is no vaccine. We need to focus on doing everything we possibly can to make sure that ASF does not hit the shores of North America, because it would be absolutely devastating.”
ASF Spreads in China
When it comes to the reports of ASF outbreak numbers in China, it’s hard to gauge the true impact of the disease in China’s swine herd. Flory says if we hear reports of 20 outbreaks, the actual number of cases could be 2,000.
“I was told this week that whatever China gives as a number of cases, you multiply it by at least a factor of 10,” Wiesemeyer says.
ASF is a highly transmissible disease by blood. Unfortunately, a vaccine is still many years away from happening. Because ASF is such a large virus with over 150 proteins, it’s very difficult to develop a vaccine to stop it.
“As we reported in ProFarmer, you have impacted producers in China seeing the price of their hogs at double the price in the U.S. and areas outside of their region,” Wiesemeyer says. “These producers go out in the dark of night into other locations and ship their hogs to that area. So you tell me that's not going to expand in China? Regretfully, it will.”
Although they are commercializing swine production in China, about half of their 400 to 500 million head of hogs are still raised in backyard operations, Flory says. These backyard hogs are often fed table scraps.
“If you are cooking up a hog that has been infected with ASF, the cooking process doesn't kill the virus,” Flory says. “So when they feed their table scraps to their hogs, their hogs get the virus.”
A Confusing Marketplace
No one predicted the big change in the U.S. pork market, Flory says, but it’s creating some interesting opportunities for producers.
“It is so confusing,” Burrack says. “You know that the market is going up, so if you hedge, you're losing. But you know that if African swine fever would show up in the U.S., the market would collapse.”
So what do you do?
Burrack says it’s hard to market in an environment where you shouldn't be short, but you've got to be short.
“However, Dermot Hayes says it's going to take a lot of dead hogs in China to justify them paying the 68% tariff for U.S. pork,” Burrack adds. “Once again, a real opportunity comes back to getting a deal done with China.”
Keeping ASF out of the U.S.
Burrack’s concerns about ASF getting into the U.S. are legitimate, Flory says. Recently, travelers from China entered Japan carrying pork product that contained active ASF virus. That same thing took place in South Korea and again in other areas of Asia.
What if some of those travelers end up in the U.S. and somehow, the virus makes it into the herd?
We need to increase the number of dogs they use at the airports, Haney says. He recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom and was disappointed by the lack of questions he was asked when he went through Canada Border Services.
“When you go through the Atlanta airport, you'll see the Beagle Brigade right there,” Wiesemeyer says. “There are 118 beagles throughout the U.S. trying to spot this stuff out. But it begs the question, why only 118? Why not more?”
Listen to the full audio report to hear more discussion about ASF and China.