Prior to the release of the recent United States Department of Agriculture’s March Hogs and Pigs report on March 28, speculation of pig losses due to porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, (PEDV) had been all over the charts.

Chris Hurt an agricultural economist at Purdue University noted that some experts had predicted that loss of pigs to be at least 11% for 2014 and as much as 20% for late-summer hog marketings due to the devastating damage of PEDV throughout the country.

While he noted that the USDA’s Hogs and Pigs report didn’t specifically ask producers how many pigs they loss due to PEDV this winter, it did ask 6,100 randomly selected pork producers how many pigs had survived and how many sows they had farrowed. USDA calculated pigs per litter from that information.

“We have to take USDA’s numbers seriously. They may not be accurate, but we can’t just dismiss the numbers,” Hurt said.

The USDA’s March Hogs and Pigs report, Hurt noted, is the best indicator the pork industry currently has of figuring out how the pork market will be affected by PEDV. According to the latest report, the losses will be nowhere near as great as were previously estimated.

The data showed that producers reported that 9.53 pigs per litter survived, while the expected rate should have been about 10.3 had it been a normal winter. This is an indication that about 7% of the baby pigs did not survive.

The agricultural economist said that two things affected the pigs per litter born this winter. The number one impact was obviously the effect of the PEDV virus, especially since it has been found that the virus thrives in cold temperatures. The second factor was the harsh winter weather that occurred from December to March. 

He added that the impact from harsh winters on pigs per litter is greatly reduced from what it was 30-40 years ago because the majority of pigs today are born in climate-controlled buildings. Still, the difficult winter also likely has had some impact on lowering the baby pig survival rate.

“Harsh weather does affect hog production, but most of the loss is probably attributable to PEDV,” Hurt said.

With the data from the USDA’s March Hogs and Pigs Report, Hurt noted that, while 7% loss is large, it is far smaller that the 20% level some had suspected. More importantly, sow farrowings were up 3% last winter and market weights are also expected to be up about 3%. This means that spring and summer pork supplies many only be down 1% to 2% if USDA numbers are close to being correct.

Hurt also noted that there is a lot of hope that once it warms up death losses from the disease will really drop off.