Ohio Pig Population Booming After Last Year’s Deadly Virus


Ohio Pig Population Booming After Last Year's Deadly Virus

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Ohio’s swine herds are on the rebound.

After losing hundreds of thousands of pigs last year to porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, the state’s pig farmers have set about turning things around — and the hog population is booming.

Ohio reported a total of almost 2.4 million pigs in the state as of June 1, a 16 percent increase year over year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state herd is the largest it has been in more than 25 years.

One reason for the steep rise is that farmers anticipated another season of the deadly porcine virus in their barns, but the virus didn’t hit with the same ferocity this year. That’s likely the reason Ohio’s pigs multiplied so fast. Ohio reported the third-largest percentage gain, according to the USDA.

“When you go through any type of crisis, you overcompensate for things,” said Pat Hord of Hord Family Farms in Crawford County. “You went through (PEDv) and you didn’t know how bad it was going to hit, so you look out ahead and see if you can breed a few more sows so if you get hit again, you’ll still have some pigs.”

There has been organic growth as well as the state’s large operators continue to expand, said Steve Moeller, swine specialist at Ohio State University Extension.

“A couple of things are happening that are important for the swine industry in Ohio,” Moeller said. “The industry overall is expanding. We have some forward-thinking producers in the state, and those producers have maintained positions to expand.”

Ohio farmers also grow a lot of what pigs eat: corn, soybeans and the byproducts of ethanol production. That makes pig production favorable and an easy add-on operation for many grain farmers, Moeller said.

Consumers will feel the surge in pig population as prices on store shelves fall. From last May to this May, pork prices have fallen almost 7 percent, and the USDA predicts that trend will continue.

Nationally, worries about the porcine virus are mostly over and producers, like those in Ohio, responded to last year’s losses by breeding more pigs. The U.S. herd grew 9 percent to 66.9 million. Ohio is the eighth-largest pork producer in the U.S. at 1.1 billion pounds and more than $1.8 billion in economic impact, according to the Ohio Pork Council.

“Most of it is a reaction to trying to get back to previous levels,” said Doug Bounds, an agricultural statistician at the USDA.

Pork prices soared last year to record highs, putting pressure on consumers and food companies.

For example, Bob Evans Farms, which makes pork sausage for retail sales and runs more than 500 restaurants, blamed part of its slump last year on high sow prices. The company is seeing better profits this year thanks in part to sow prices that have fallen 36 percent from a year ago.

Falling prices might force producers to curb their growth a bit, said Hord, the Crawford County farmer. He doesn’t expect the state to maintain anything like double-digit growth.

“It looks like we are in for some challenging pricing for a period of time,” Hord said, “so there might be some more caution in the coming years.”

Ohio’s growth though, should continue at a slow, incremental rate, Moeller said. A new packing plant in Coldwater, Mich., which drew several Ohio investors, is making the state more favorable for raising pigs and expanding operations.

“Ohio producers are in a great location to help meet the plant’s demand for pigs,” Moeller said.

SOURCE: The Columbus Dispatch

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