ALVORD—A fourth-generation Lyon County family farming operation hosted two state agriculture department officials on Monday, April 9.

Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig of Des Moines and Dr. Greg Schmitt of LeMars, a district veterinarian for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, visited Mogler Farms northwest of Alvord.

Naig toured the Moglers’ nearby Pig Hill Sow Farm during the afternoon and he and Schmitt spoke to about 40 area farmers during the evening at Mogler Farms’ main office building.

Dwight Mogler, the swine operations manager for Mogler Farms, kicked off the evening part of the event, which focused primarily on foreign animal disease prevention and preparedness.

“As we become more and more reliant on exports on the meat side of our business — the meat side of the business is a sell-it-or-smell-it business, not a storable commodity, like the grains — if we would have a foreign animal disease event, it would be catastrophic, to say the least,” Mogler said.

He knows that the state agriculture department — with its state veterinarian and the veterinarian staff — plays a key role whenever a foreign animal disease event occurs, such as in 2015, when highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza flew through Iowa and wreaked havoc on farm fowl in the country’s top egg-producing state.

‘Critically important’

Mogler asked Naig and Schmitt to address what the state agriculture department is doing from a standpoint as far as preventing an event like what happened three years ago from occurring in Iowa’s hog farming industry.

Naig was appointed Iowa agriculture secretary in March by Gov. Kim Reynold after previous state agriculture secretary Bill Northey become the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

Naig served Northey’s deputy secretary 2013-18. He grew up on a farm that had hogs near the Palo Alto County city of Cylinder and was impressed with what he saw during his tour of Mogler Farms and Pig Hill, especially with the Moglers’ biosecurity measures.

“I observed that firsthand — keep what’s outside outside, keep what’s inside inside, right?” Naig said. “That’s so critically important, so I got to see that firsthand. What a great operation.”

He recalled when the bird flu hit Iowa and other parts of the United States in 2015 and became the largest animal disease outbreak in American history.

There were 77 poultry premises in 18 counties and more than 31.5 million birds that were affected by the disease in Iowa.

“We all learned a lot,” Naig said. “Greg was a part of that. He’s got that experience. Again, we’d all give it back right now, if we could, but we can’t.

“What we can do is we’re going to apply those lessons learned,” he said. “We’ve been hard at work trying to do that.”

‘Disease spreads’

As a district veterinarian for the state agriculture department, Schmitt covers 26 counties in the northwest part of Iowa. He gave a presentation on foreign animal disease prevention and preparedness.

“A foreign animal disease is basically a disease that’s not in the United States right now,” Schmitt said. “If it would come into the United States, it would be devastating for producers and all the allied industries then because, more than likely, we’d lose our export markets then, too.”

He said the three main foreign animal diseases that affect pigs are foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever.

“In this part of the state, you probably know how much animals move around,” Schmitt said of livestock. “About 90,000 animals move per day into the state of Iowa. A big share of those are feeder swine. So that’s a lot of animals moving in.

“Then you have to realize those animals are going to be moved off the farm then, too — whether they’re going to slaughter or someplace else then, too,” he said. “So our animals move around a lot.”

He emphasized that anytime farm animals are moved, it could be a risk.

“We are in a swine-dense state in a swine-dense area,” Schmitt said. “In December 2017, Iowa’s inventory of swine was 22.8 million. North Carolina was second with about 9 million hogs.”

Schmitt talked about disease prevention and biosecurity for farming operations.

“We all know that disease spreads lots of different ways,” he said. “Infected animals are probably the easiest way you can spread a disease. I think we all know that, but also you have to think about people spreading disease.

“It could be people that work on your facility,” he said. “It could be people that are bringing you supplies. It could be people that come to work on your facility’s equipment.”

Schmitt said disease also can be spread by insects, rodents, wild birds and wind, among other ways.

“We all should know about prevention and biosecurity,” he said. “It requires education of all of us then, too.”

Schmitt mentioned that people who work with farm animals need to wear proper clothing, including coveralls, boots, masks and goggles that can immediately be cleaned and sanitized or disposed of after a task is done.

“Basically, biosecurity is: Don’t bring a disease into your operation and don’t take it out of your operation,” he said. “Prevention is everybody’s responsibility. You need to let your employees and other people that might be on your place know how much it means to you to have a disease-free site.”