Dave Dickey
Dave Dickey

It has been a tough couple of years for U.S. livestock producers.

First, a severe drought in 2013 shrunk the U.S. cattle herd to its lowest level in six decades. Along the way, beef prices at the retail level hit an all-time high.

Then livestock producers were hit with a double whammy.

Avian influenza, better known as bird flu, decimated the nation’s poultry barns.

Detected first in December of 2014, the virus was responsible for more than 30 million poultry deaths in at least 15 states. Overall, bird flu has been detected in at least 21 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The result for the consumer has been a shortage of eggs with prices topping $3 a dozen.

Hog producers also have felt some pain.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus has killed an estimated 5 million U.S. hogs in at least 26 states since it was discovered in May 2013. Consumers initially saw higher pork prices until hog producers responded to the outbreak by bringing heavier than typical pigs to market to make up for the losses.

Foreign markets acted predictably to the outbreaks, as well.

Many nations stopped importing U.S. poultry and pigs.

The outbreaks have contributed to a tough couple of years to be sure. So when the University of Missouri announced last month that it had discovered a possible vaccine that prevents piglets from contracting Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), that’s big news.

The vaccine prevents pigs from producing the protein CD163, which is necessary for PRRS to spread.

The University of Missouri wants to commercialize the vaccine and has signed a deal with Genus plc to do just that.

Here’s hoping they are successful.

Not only could it save the hog industry hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but it also is a step toward securing more stable prices at the retail level.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Type of work:

David Dickey always wanted to be a journalist. After serving tours in the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, Dickey enrolled at Rock Valley Junior College in Rockford, Ill., where he was first news editor...

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