Josh Scramlin, the Regional Director of Producer Services of the National Pork Producers Council, and Nathan Schroeder, a Putnam County pork producer, joined Matt Reese and Dusty Sonnenberg for the Ohio Ag Net podcast at the Ohio Pork Congress.

Ohio Pork Congress assessed numerous industry challenges

By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo

There are a number of very significant challenges facing Ohio’s pork industry right now, but a casual visitor to the 2024 Ohio Pork Congress held in Lima in February, probably would not know based on the upbeat attendees, optimism for the future and very strong PAC auction, among other things.

“The trade show was full, there were a lot of positive attitudes and the PAC auction was great. It is such a good time to get everybody there. Everybody’s in a great mood and they’re willing to spend money because it goes to a good cause,” said Nathan Schroeder, a board member for the Ohio Pork Council and a Putnam County contract hog producer. “The PAC is there to help us out in D.C. and help lobby and they know how important that is. It was a near record raising around $38,000.”

Nonetheless, some significant problems loom large. At the top of Schroeder’s list of concerns are diseases issues.

“We’re starting to see a decent flare up in PRRS again. It always is sticking around but as of late it’s showing its ugly head. Obviously, the economic impact on the sow farms out there is a big deal. As contract farmers we don’t see that economic impact first-hand, but we know it’s there and we can appreciate what the industry has got to battle through. But we do see the results of the pigs when they get sick. It is one thing to talk about sick pigs, but it’s another thing to be there to actually deal with them. Disease concerns put big pressure on you. Biosecurity protocols are important and we do try our best. Everything we can do helps when disease issues flair up like this,” Schroeder said. “When we have a PRRS outbreak, obviously we have a multiple sites and now, luckily, we have a few people at home where we can segregate certain barns, and we just basically stay away from each other. It definitely throws a lot of wrenches into some plans. It’s tough to do and it takes a lot of a lot of planning, but we can do it.”

African swine fever getting into the United States is another ongoing concern industry wide, said Josh Scramlin, the Regional Director of Producer Services of the National Pork Producers Council serving Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Josh Scramlin, the Regional Director of Producer Services of the National Pork Producers Council serving Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, provided a recent update of the regional pork industry.

“African swine fever is scary. Any day that it is not here is a great day. It’s been in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since the summer of 2021,” Scramlin said. “We always get the questions: is it ever going to hop to Puerto Rico which is a U.S. territory and is it ever going to hop to the continental United States? Classical swine fever has been in in the Dominican Republic for decades now and it’s never made the jump. That’s not really a scientific answer and that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen with African swine fever, but it gives you a little bit of hope.”

In addition, hog producers continue to face profitability woes.

“We are in the middle of a long economic depression when it comes to profitability in the pork industry. There’s just really no way to sugarcoat it. Pork producers lost an average of $30 per pig sold in 2023. When I talk to producers and ask them about the history of their farm, they would say, ‘You know we made it through 1998.’ There is pride in that. And what we are seeing right now is worse than 1998,” Scramlin said. “Since the fall of 2022 we have seen the worst period of losses in the pork industry. We all know everything has gotten much more expensive since COVID. Since 2020, production costs have risen over $30 per pig. Historically the prices the producers are getting for their pigs right now may not look that bad, but because of what it costs to raise a pig, it is hard to know what the right breakeven price is. Demand has been softer and there’s also a lot of pigs out there. The sow herd is really not changing. There might be a little variation, but it’s really not moving that much. USDA has told us the outlook is not really going to get better, but we don’t think it’s going to get worse in 2024. Everything else that we are talking about would be crazy even if producers were making a ton of money, but not only are we dealing with all these crazy things, we are also losing money while dealing with these crazy things. There’s really no way around it. It’s not a good time money wise in the pork industry right now.”

Another topic highlighted at the Ohio Pork Congress was Ohio’s feral swine population.

“We do have feral swine in the state of Ohio. They were brought here. They are not native species. They’re an invasive species. We have two major pockets of them in southern Ohio and then over in the Hocking Hills area. Wildlife Services is doing a great job of trying to track them and control them,” said Cheryl Day, executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Council. “The commercial side of the hog production is very concerned about feral swine because of African swine fever. We know that one vector for spreading a disease like African swine fever is feral swine. I got to spend two weeks in Europe talking to European pork producers and the one clear message was that if you get it in your feral swine, you lose. The minute we get African swine fever in the United States, it shuts down our export market and if your farm is infected, those animals have to be eliminated. It has the potential to put the people that raise pigs in Ohio out of business, so we have to do everything we can do to keep African swine fever out and we have to be proactive with the feral swine population. They will not only spread African swine fever, but they also can spread other diseases that we are dealing with in the barns today such as PRRS or pseudorabies.”

Cheryl Day is the executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Council.

In addition to concerns from hog producers, feral hogs can quickly turn into an ecological nightmare destroying row crops, timber crops and displacing many native species and natural habitats with their extremely disruptive rooting. They also reproduce quickly and have few natural predators.

With this in mind, Day and the Ohio Pork Council are pushing for legislation to address the situation by prohibiting bringing feral swine into the state and not listing a hunting season for them in Ohio, instead focusing on control and elimination of the invasive species by Wildlife Services with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“We do not want to get feral swine populations in northwest Ohio or anywhere else where we have big pockets of commercial pig production. The best way to do this is to have controlled hunting, fencing some in for a couple of weeks to get them to settle down and then you have a targeted approach in hunting. We feel like Wildlife Services should be in charge of that,” Day said. “It is time to introduce state legislation that says feral swine should not be listed as game in Ohio we should not hunt them and we should not be bringing them in. We are introducing legislation with Reps. Bob Peterson and Don Jones and Sen. Tim Schaffer to say we do not want you to keep bringing in feral swine in from other states and that we will be able to not have just anybody hunting them. It’ll be controlled hunting and we’ll work with Wildlife Services to get rid of feral swine in the state of Ohio. We are taking a more aggressive approach. It’s time to get rid of them in our state.”

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