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Pork industry accepts mortality challenge

Kevin Schulz Hogs in pen inside barn
BE PREPARED: The last thing any livestock producer wants to do is handle mortalities, but hog producers would be forced to do just that if African swine fever would hit their herd. The Pork Checkoff is asking producers and innovators to create new methods for handling on-farm mortalities.
Hog Outlook: Checkoff program looks for new, better ways to handle mortalities on the farm.

Sadly, livestock losses happen on farms and ranches, and producers have developed systems to handle the mortalities — whether it be burial, incineration, composting or transporting the carcasses to landfills.

Those systems were challenged when COVID-19’s impact was felt in meat processing plants, as hog producers were forced to put down large numbers of healthy hogs. Compounding that problem, many of these hogs were market-weight hogs with no place to go.

Putting down one healthy animal goes against every fiber of a hog farmer’s being. Not to mention, it is emotionally and financially draining. But imagine if a foreign animal disease such as African swine fever were to hit; a farmer’s entire herd would need to be euthanized to contain the spread of the disease.

That handling and disposal of a much larger number of hogs of all sizes would create a Herculean management challenge.

Step up to challenge

The Pork Checkoff is asking producers and other innovators to enter its Pork Industry Innovation Challenge to present new or innovative methods of pig mortality disposal. The checkoff will reward those who bring the best ideas to the table.

By July 31, producers or innovators need to submit a 500-word overview of an on-farm mortality disposal method for the pork industry to consider, and a brief overview of how it would work. Entry ideas must be “novel” or be a “significant” improvement of an existing method that saves time, money, labor and inputs.

The challenge is open to all companies, students, producers and individuals who are at least 18 years old and a U.S. resident at the time of entry. Each applicant is allowed two entries, and each one will be judged separately.

Reward for innovation

Not only is there the satisfaction of creating a better way of doing things for the pork industry, but there is also cold, hard cash available for the best ideas — and rewards come to innovators in a four-tier setup.

In Tier 1, a $1,000 award awaits those who provide a plausible idea for on-farm mortality disposal that can be designed into a small-scale pilot project. Tier 2, and $5,000 award, is given if one can successfully execute a small-scale project from the idea.

At Tier 3, $10,000 is awarded if one can successfully design a large-scale pilot from the idea. The final tier brings with it a $30,000 award, if the innovator can successfully execute a large-scale pilot from the idea.

The National Pork Board, through the Pork Checkoff, will notify applicants who advance beyond Tier 1 of the challenge by Oct. 31. Prize money for moving past Tier 1 will be distributed by Dec. 31.

Maybe you’re a producer who had to dispose of a large number of hogs in the COVID-19 devastation, all the while thinking there has to be a better way. Well, put your ideas to paper and submit them, if you’re up to the challenge.

Visit to find out more and to submit your entry before the July 31 deadline.

Schulz, a Farm Progress senior staff writer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

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