ASF, COVID-19 are Both Top of Mind to US Producers

While the United States does not have African Swine Fever inside its borders, it is important to study the issues surrounding this disease. National Pork Board Director of Swine Health Dr. Pam Zaabel says research projects have been funded.

“We’re funding them through a collaborative effort with the National Pork Board and the Swine Health Information Center, who’s received funding through the Foreign Ag Service, and the project’s total is right around $2 million.” 

Vietnam has had ASF for the past year and a half. Zaabel says valuable research is taking place in Vietnam that could benefit the U.S. swine industry.

“There are a lot of projects being funded and some of those dealing with things like the inactivation of the ASF, or the African Swine Fever Virus, in compost piles. We’re trying to get a better understanding of ASF survival in pig manure, and we’re looking at the accuracy of tests for ASF antibody detection. We’d like to know how those work and how those could be used in an ASF surveillance and response program here in the United States if the virus made its way here. Different tests looking at improving the different diagnostic tests that are available. That includes the antibody detection test, and we’re also looking at improving PCR tests that look for the virus, as well as any oral fluid diagnostics so that we would have those as a tool in case it made its way here. There are also several projects looking at how the virus is spreading in Vietnam and how to improve biosecurity there, things that we could apply here and implement on our farms in the United States as far as biosecurity measures.”

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The coronavirus pandemic continues to create challenges that in some situations, are overwhelming rural communities. As lawmakers in Washington D.C. debate what another round of COVID-19 assistance may look like, the National Farmers Union is asking that more than the bottom line be considered.

NFU President Rob Larew recently penned a letter to the Senate, in which he pointed out that while the pandemic created a number of problems, many of those issues were on top of existing struggles, damaging the economic environment for farmers. For example, he noted the ongoing problem of low commodity prices, not something that will go away once the pandemic is over.

“For some of the processing facilities, particularly in livestock, and we’ve seen all of the stories in beef and in hogs, that we have such a concentrated market out there, that when you have a few of the biggest plants go down, that has ripple effects back to the independent farmer or rancher, and those are the kinds of challenges that we need to have addressed.”

Larew added the economic impact of coronavirus could push thousands of small and mid-sized operations out of business. But, Larew notes many small communities are suffering in other ways, specifically communities that still have a rural hospital. He says despite what you may hear on the national scene, COVID-19 cases are not limited to hospitals in large cities.

“Under the best of conditions, they struggle to stay afloat, and those folks on the front lines are continuing to be there, and with this pandemic particularly in a lot of rural areas where we are seeing cases rise those facilities are getting hit especially hard.”

Larew pointed out that many rural communities nationwide have lost their hospital over the past 10-15 years, and he fears that number could increase in the wake of the pandemic.