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How China's Swine Fever Outbreak Is Impacting Illinois Farmers

Chad Leman
Ryan Denham
Chad Leman is a third-generation farmer. He also serves on the Illinois Pork Producers board.

Want to know farmer Chad Leman’s top concern? It’s not the trade dispute with China.

It’s African Swine Fever, a disease that’s ravaging China’s hog farms. Half of the world's pigs live in China — or at least they did before the epidemic began a year ago. Some estimates say China's production of pork could be cut in half by the end of 2019.

“It’s almost mind-boggling to think of how many pigs that is. We can never begin to supply what they’ve lost,” said Leman, a hog farmer near Eureka in Woodford County.

The No. 1 concern, Leman said, is making sure the outbreak doesn’t spread to U.S. hog operations like his. The disease can’t be transmitted to humans, but once it hits, a country’s pork exports are a goner.

“If we get it over here, you’re talking the largest disruption to the pork industry that we’ve ever seen,” Leman told WGLT. That would have trickle-down effects throughout the agricultural economy, he said, because hog producers would need less corn and soybean meal for their pigs.

African Swine Fever means that China needs another supply for pork. And the U.S. is ready — except for that pesky trade dispute.

“The trade dispute is certainly taking the enthusiasm off the opportunity we have,” Leman said. “We have a prime destination for pork right now (in China), but the tariff price is so steep that it’s muted. We’ve got this huge bait dangling, but if we get (the disease) here, it all goes away, and it goes away in a big way.”

Added Leman: “Until that gets resolved, China is pretty reluctant to buy pork, and we’ve got a plethora of it around just waiting to head that way.”

NPR's Dan Charles reported on the outbreak this week. The disease can spread through contaminated pork products or the clothes of people working with infected pigs. It does not travel through the air, but it's long-lived and hard to get rid of.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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