A year after the first case of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus was confirmed in Canada, Alberta pork producers have reason to celebrate — cautiously.
Industry officials confirmed during an Alberta Pork teleconference on Friday that Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia remain free of the disease that has killed millions of pigs in the United States, and infected barns in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
“While we certainly can pat ourselves on the back for fantastic success so far in keeping this virus out, we certainly can’t let down our vigilance at this time of year,” said Julia Keenliside, a veterinary epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development.
The ongoing threat was illustrated on Jan. 21, with the discovery of a new case at a Manitoba feeder operation, noted Egan Brockhoff, a swine veterinarian with Prairie Swine Health Services in Red Deer. Another case was confirmed on Jan. 26 in Ontario, bringing the number of infected sites in that province to more than 100.
Keenliside noted that the count in Manitoba is now up to five, and in Quebec the tally has reached 10.
However, Brockhoff also pointed out that nearly 40 of the PED-infected barns in Ontario have been returned to negative status. He added that Canada’s successful efforts in containing the virus are being noted around the world.
“We have successfully found ways to control and eliminate in pig barns — back to negative.”
In Alberta, enhanced biosecurity is being credited for the success in stopping PED. A provincial surveillance program has conducted more than 6,000 tests of trucks and trailers, wash bays, assembly yards and abattoirs during the past year, said Keenliside. There has been only one positive result, with that associated with an office area.
United States producers continue to be hit hard by the virus, with 30 states infected, said Brockhoff. However the rate of spread has slowed from a year ago.
Market analyst Kevin Grier described how PED has impacted the pork industry. He said slaughter numbers in the U.S. were down about six per cent last year due to the loss of animals. That equates to about six million to eight million pigs.
“We knew it was serious, but we had no idea of just how serious it was gong to be,” he said.
These losses contributed to a 15 to 20 per cent increase in pork prices over 2013 levels, said Grier, and resulted in a “phenomenal year” for producers who escaped PED.
Going into 2015, prices are down substantially, he noted. This is likely due to traders on the futures market assuming that the worst is over and that supplies will rebound.
Grier thinks this could be overly optimistic.
On the processing side, he suggested that Olymel’s plant in Red Deer is benefitting from improved hog numbers, which allows it to operate more efficiently.
“I’m sure they’d like more pigs there, but at the same time the situation appears to me — in terms of capacity utilization, which is crucial — to have improved. That’s good news.”
However, Grier doesn’t anticipate a boost in pig numbers in Canada. Producers are still recovering financially from a series of bad years, and also face high construction costs and cautious lenders, he said.
“So, from a variety of different perspectives, I don’t know that we’re going to see much growth or expansion in Canada, especially relative to the United States.”