Ukrainian grain farmers now raising hogs benefit from ISU expertise

Iowa State University swine health expert helping Ukraine farmers
calendar icon 30 August 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

Russian attacks over the past 18 months have wreaked havoc on Ukrainian supply chains, reducing access to grain markets. The glut of inventory in the nation often called Europe’s bread basket has driven grain prices down, while reduced production capacity has increased the price of meat.

That’s prompted some Ukrainian grain farmers to raise hogs for the first time, a more lucrative use of their harvest. An Iowa State University swine health expert is helping some of those farmers safely navigate the war-driven pivot to pork with a series of online workshops, according to a news release from the university.

Justin Brown, an assistant teaching professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, will wrap up the monthly series in September. Ten modules cover the basics of biosecurity along with disease identification, treatment and prevention. Each monthly session includes two modules with recorded lectures and a live Q&A, starting at 5 a.m. in Iowa so it can be held around the lunch hour in Ukraine.

“The questions come flying in,” Brown said. “And they ask a lot of really good ones. There is definitely a thirst for in-depth knowledge.”

Brown prepares his presentation slides in English before sending it to Oksana Yurchenko, president of the Association of Ukrainian Pig Breeders, to translate into Ukrainian. He then records his lectures in English using the translated slides, which is overdubbed in Ukrainian. Yurchenko translates live to facilitate follow-up questions after the lectures are played.

“Given what they’ve been going through. I’ve been amazed with their responsiveness,” he said. “I’m giving them information they need about swine medicine, but I’m also helping maintain some sense of normal life for them, I think.”

When the invasion began, tending to hogs wasn’t a priority, Yurchenko said. About 15% of the nation’s commercial pig inventory was lost, leading to a 100,000-ton drop in pork production in 2022.

“The first two or three months were chaos. We weren’t sure we’d continue to produce pork. But after the situation stabilized more, we came back to our routines,” she said.

As grain farmers began to realize finishing pigs could convert cheap grain to needed protein, Yurchenko’s group looked to expand on its history of working with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on biosecurity. The USDA awarded a small grant to cover the workshops, which are designed for farmers raising swine for the first time.

“For these new producers, getting this information has been very, very, very important,” Yurchenko said.

Though geared toward newcomers, the workshop participants have included longtime swine veterinarians, university researchers and students. The sessions draw up to 100 people, Yurchenko said.

Brown’s presentations have been tailored in some ways for a Ukrainian audience. For instance, raising hogs outdoors – more common there than in the US – requires different approaches, he said. But in general, Iowa State’s swine health expertise is applicable in other regions, and it’s been rewarding to help farmers in need far beyond the state’s borders, Brown said.

“It’s our mission to disseminate knowledge, and often that happens here in Iowa. But a pig is a pig is a pig. There are some variances in genetic lines, but they get the same diseases. And the goal is the same, to safely grow food,” he said.

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