The pig industry is seeking funding for a major new project that would deliver a co-ordinated cross-industry approach to PRRS control.
Stewart Houston, in his role as a member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE), presented the idea to the NPA Producer Group in November.
PRRS is the UK pig sector’s most damaging endemic disease, costing an estimated £80 per sow or £3.50 per finished pig. A previous survey showed 58% of slaughter pigs had been exposed to it and APHA continues to report rising incidence, despite efforts to control it.
Mr Houston explained that AHWBE, following consultation with the NPA, Pig Veterinary Society and AHDB Pork, was seeking funding under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for a partnership project to tackle the disease. £3 million has been provisionally allocated to the project, but he stressed that it was about much more than the money.
He said: “We hope that the main benefit will be to bring all parties together to focus on tackling this desperately difficult disease. One of the biggest barriers to effective PRRS control is that even if one farmer takes all the necessary actions to control and eradicate the disease, if his neighbour is not doing the same thing, he risks becoming rapidly re-infected.
“That is why we need a co-ordinated approach involving farms of all shapes, sizes and types.”
In terms of what sort of activities the funding might cover, he added: “External and internal biosecurity are fundamental to delivering disease freedom and this can be achieved through specialist vets completing biosecurity surveys, disease mapping, PRRS testing and transport washes.”
Scotland has already made a start, for example on PRRS testing, and is willing to work with England on the project, he said.
The intention is to involve producers in the body that bids for and distributes the money. A working group has been established, including organisations that might want to bid for the project, and it is working to get the business case signed off by Ministers in January. If successful, work to procure delivery organisations would commence soon after and the aim is to commence the project by June 2019.
AHWBE is hoping this project could be a pilot for similar initiatives under the future Animal Health and Welfare Pathway it is working on with Defra, which is committed to animal health and welfare projects under the new post-Brexit agriculture policy. The funding will roll forward as long as this project is completed by 2020, Mr Houston said.
PG members challenged Mr Houston on various elements of the project, but gave it their backing. “This is an ambitious initiative, which has the potential to deliver great things for producers if we get it right,” NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said.