31: Living with ASF in South Africa with Johann Kotzé
Hello there. This is Dr. Casey Bradley and you’re listening to The Real P3 podcast, a podcast dedicated to the real pork producers around the world. I hope you enjoy.
ASF is just about every hog producer’s worst fear, but can you imagine living with it for decades? Well, we’re going to be visiting with the CEO of the South African Pork Producers’ Organization (SAPPO), Johann Kotzé, and he’s gonna discuss what they’ve done to compartmentalize their industry and be able to live and thrive under the constant threat of ASF in South Africa. So, stay tuned.
Casey: Well, hello, Johann. How are you doing today?
Johann: I’m fine, thank you.
C: Would you telling the audience a little bit about yourself?
J: Yeah. So, I’m the CEO of the South African Pork Producers in South Africa. We are a organization that was formed through the intervention of a few farmers that got together. So, it’s a farming body of producers’ body, and we have a statutory levy which we collect at the abattoirs. So, for every pig that’s slaughtered in South Africa, we maintain a levy and out of that we manage then the farming side, but also we work right through the value chain up to the consumer to make sure that the development of pork in South Africa is in a good space. So that’s more or less who we are.
C: Very similar to our NPPC and pork boards. So, South Africa (SA), how many sows and pigs do you guys raise currently?
J: So, first we need to talk about the diversity we deal with. So, we have an informal sector, which is it’s really unregulated, which means it’s quite difficult to maintain good data out of an informal sector. [02:00] And then we have the formal or the commercial sector. Formal-commercial wise on our site as SAPPO we do about 145,000 sows in total, which is just over 500 producers. So, we have also difference in, I would say about 80% of that 144,000 would be large commercial farmers and then you have lesser, what you say, smaller farmers which varies from 50 sows, 100 sows up to – I think our biggest client is – about 35,000 sows in total.
C: So, what is your average slaughter-weights for your market?
J: Yeah, that’s one we want to push up. That’s always a nice debate. In South Africa, we average about 82-84kilos per carcass slaughter-weight, so that’s more or less the norm. If you go to the informal sector, they go much lighter. There you talk about 75 kilos, maybe if it’s not less. So, on average for the commercial side, the larger group of farmers that we represent, it’s about between 82-84 kilos per carcass.
C: That is a light pig compared to what we’re raising today, for sure, so.
J: Yeah, as I said that’s a good debate, yeah. For us it is something that we need to develop in. I don’t think our processes are rigged to handle larger carcasses, and I think the market that we serve is maybe a bit different. However, the farmers are pushing, and understand the concept. It’s kind of economy and that’s where you make your money, so that’s always a good debate to have, so the trend in South Africa is also to grow genetically every year and leaner. So, I think we follow the pattern that we see that the world is also having.
C: And are you also keeping your boars intact? Or are you still able to castrate in South Africa?
J: We do both. So that’s also a nice debate. So, we have a program which we do Pork360, [04:00] so we slaughter 23 weeks our males, so some of our people do castrate. We also utilize the chemical one, and then we have people who don’t castrate. So, it’s a bit of all the worlds that we have.
C: And the biggest debate around the world today in the swine industry is African Swine Fever (ASF). You probably were one of the first and longest lasting countries to deal with ASF. The world’s kinda interested in learning how you’ve kinda – as you put it before – have lived with it.
J: Yeah, I think that first I need to just maybe state one or two things. I think a few people know that – or don’t know – that African Swine Fever is endemic in SA, so we have it. The first case was 1928, so we have wild animals, we have we call them warthogs – vlakvarkes in Afrikans – and you’re never gonna get rid of it. That’s part and parcel of who we are and the way we live. So, we – it’s endemic, we have it – so as farmers we know that. I think we also went from a sylvatic cycle to a domestic cycle, which means it’s now transferred between domestic pigs. And that’s something that kind of picked up in the past 4-5 years, which is just – it feels sometimes – it’s been out of control. And then there’s one province where it haven’t broken yet. However, we believe it’s even there. So, in saying this, I need to start with this to say, as South African pig farmers, we know we have it, and so I think our mindset is a bit different, and maybe… I wanna maybe push out and talk about 5 things that we’ve learned.
First, I want to acknowledge and say we are so small. For me to talk to you is a privilege. We don’t reckon ourselves as world leaders. We are minute if you look into the world. But we’ve learned a few things, and I think the first thing is [06:00] ASF can be managed. I don’t think you can control it because it’s so difficult to control human behavior and human behavior is the greatest driver of ASF. That’s what we’ve seen in South Africa. I think the first wake-up call for us was to say you can manage it and we need to manage it. There are ways that you can manage ASF, and I think that was one of the first things we ventured in to say we’re gonna take up the call to manage ASF and we’re gonna do it. So, it’s a mind shift of pushing yourself into a space to say it is manageable. We’re not gonna be dead. There is a way out. Can we look into a different space where we do it maybe a bit differently?
I think the second thing is biosecurity for us as farmers became a way of living. I’ve seen so many places and we’ve traveled a bit in the world to kinda understand how other people are farming and producing pigs. What I’ve seen is just many people ticking boxes. Just ticking a box to say well, check-check-check, and if they’re on a good program, they normally tick the box to say that I am clean. I can really say to you in South Africa, we do tick boxes, because that’s the way you impound your discipline into your system. However, it’s a way of living. The reason why we do it is to mitigate the risk. And I think that’s my third point to say that sometimes I find people that don’t view ASF as a risk, and they want to fight this virus out of a different concept. In South Africa we say it’s part and parcel of the risk package that we have. And if it breaks, we have say 5 evils. You need to mitigate the risk to have the lesser of the 5 evils. It’s impossible to say, “That’s not gonna happen.” It’s impossible to say, “Well it’s not gonna happen to me.”
So, my fourth point would be I think we started to think of ASF [08:00] out of a concept of risk management. How do you mitigate your risk? So, when we talk as farmers and we sit down and we talk about biosecurity, we say to ourselves “It can be managed; the way we live is going to prevent this virus to spread. However, we’re mitigating a risk. We know it’s possible, but what is the best way to mitigate the risk?” And what we’ve found is the moment you put your mind into a space like that, you come into new interventions. You come up with different concepts. So, it sometimes feel we were blindfolded if we just think of how can I prevent this virus to get into my space. When we got into a space where we said to ourselves but let’s mitigate this risk, let’s push it aside and say if it happens, I’m not gonna die. I’m gonna – as a farmer – there’s another way to help us to get out of this sync of virus and just get ourselves to a different space. The moment that happened, our mind’s been opened and we kind of understood it in a different way and we started fighting this. So, the fourth thing is we started to think like a virus. So, as you all know, South African – as South Africans, I don’t know how it goes in the rest of the world – we have a lot of politics. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, or in our case is it black and white, or is it the previous disadvantage or the new upcoming people or the industrialists who are quite rich. We’ve learned that this little virus has no respect for any politics. It doesn’t have respect for the poor or for the rich. It goes into a space where you give the virus the option to function, to multiply itself and to kill. And what we’ve done is we put aside all the side facts and all the side focuses we had in the past, and we said to ourselves, we need to focus like a virus and understand how a virus can penetrate a piggery.
And then, what you [10:00] then do is then you start battling back, and you battle that – you’re going to war with that virus – and your battle on the virus’s kind of platform. So, we’ve pushed ourselves into a space to say, “Think like a virus.” And the moment that you do that and you understand the virus, the mind shift came and we could to a certain extent fight it better. We could fight it better off. So that was also a big change for us South Africans to get into a space and in the mindset of the virus.
I think the last one I want to talk about is – to maybe say something about is – we are not that sophisticated with traceability yet in South Africa. Although we are traceable and we do it in a proper way, I think there’s still a long way for us to go where you can just retrack something that in your value chain wasn’t supposed to be there. So, if something happens in South Africa, the whole value chain, we all take the hammering. So, if we have a break, in say at an abattoir, the whole value chain is in for a hiding. So, we’ve learned that the fight against a virus, of which ASF is a big one for us, it’s a fight that we all take on. It’s not just a farmer that fights against the virus. So, what we’ve established is a kind of an awareness, and also an urgency from the processors, the retails, the abattoirs and the farmers to work against this virus. And I think many a times it looks like people are functioning in silos. And when it happens, you can just close down that silo. And South Africa doesn’t work that way. We all get the hammering. And I think one thing we’ve learned is to stand together. So, the fight against the virus is not just the farmer’s issue. It goes right through up to the consumer. And I think we’ve established quite a good relationship in our value chains to fight against this virus. And I think the effort that we put in [12:00] into this space as a value chain helped us big time in overcoming the concept of the battle against this virus.
C: Some very good points. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna revisit #1 – you mentioned when we look at ASF – and I thought this was interesting – you talked about poverty kinda being a key to that management, and can you kinda talk a little bit more about – you know, as you called it – the undocumented type of pork production vs the more organized pork production, and then how poverty and that plays a role in ASF in your country?
J: Yeah, so about a year ago I did a course at one of the Universities with us, and I took ASF as a case study for myself, because we were then in the middle of some small outbreaks among small farmers, and absolutely astounding concept to work with to say how are you gonna combat ASF? And eventually I got to a point to say if you can overcome poverty in South Africa, ASF would be half of what we have now. And the reason I say that is that the conclusion we got to when we did this case study in fighting ASF was poverty in South Africa drives people to the peripheral areas of bigger cities. So, I think it’s 63%, they estimate between a third to 65% of all South Africans are gonna live in cities. So, they migrate from the rural areas out to the cities. But they in essence are all good farmers. Their opportunities in the rural areas are not there anymore, they migrate to peripheral areas, which is in some cases, this is what you can think of the slums, and I think everybody knows about the concept through the Kenya slums, which is quite known to everybody. So, you have that kind of concept and way people are living. Now with the skills they have they normally take some pigs’ work, because pigs [14:00] play a major role in the culture of the Africans. For us, pigs are common. It’s the way we live. Everybody had a pig on a farm. It’s part and parcel of what we eat, so it’s common to us. But the pigs are also the best converters of waste to protein. So, it makes sense that people will take it in. However, it’s a high-risk production system. So, that informal sector and that informal production system is extremely difficult to manage. That’s pro for the outbreak of ASF, purely because of the infrastructure that lends itself to falter or to default to biosecurity. So, that is part and parcel of who we are in SA and we have that system with us, so it’s a high-risk production method; it’s lucrative for the people dealing with it, because the value chain is quite small, it’s not as extensive as what you have on the commercial side, and there’s always a good market for meat, because the people who live in that peripheral area are willing to pay for the pork what that people would ask. So, the production cost is quite low; they feed waste and they know the risk. They know about the risk, so the business model entails the risk, but they make more money per kilo than what you make commercially purely because of the production system, even though it’s a high risk. So that poverty scenario paints a good picture for a virus to venture into. And that’s why we battle to maintain ASF just in certain areas. So, if you go commercial now, how do we survive in a system like this? And even though you know that you’re never gonna eradicate that production method. There is a way, and I think self-learning and people taking control of [16:00] their own destiny and understanding their own concept is some of the ideas that we’ve pushed to that space and that we manage. As commercial farmers, we do it differently. So, years ago, we did compartmentalization, and I think it’s a term – if I explain it – maybe the terminology is not common, however, the concept is common to many people in the world. All we did was – we said as farmers we need to take our own destiny at hands on our own farms. So, what we did was we went to our own government, and we negotiated with government a protocol to put down as a compartmentalization system. And what it means is we create a sow population inside that farm, and it’s controlled and authorized by our government and then that counts then as the sow population. And whatever goes in there is controlled and whatever goes out is controlled. So even though we have an outbreak next to that farm, that farm would still be reckoned as a free trade zone. So, we dealt with that, and over and above that, we also as pork producers added to that, not just on the health side, which gives you the liberty to trade, but also the welfare side, the environmental side, the people side, management side, and we created a Pork360 that’s a farm assured program. We as farmers entailed more discipline through a standardized process into our system.
So, the first thing I need to say, even though we are compartmentalized, and we are Pork360, we can also break. We know that. However, the risk of breaking is mitigated by this standard that we’ve put forth to say this is the way we’re gonna farm. And so, I think that a lot of people think that if I am a compartment I will never break. The chance is there to break and I can tell you it’s only one thing: us, we, the people that work there, somewhere there’s gonna be [18:00] maybe a break. It’s normal, it’s human, but I think to a certain extent what we got right as SA pig farmers is we mitigate the risk and it’s far less riskier than the process without compartments or without Pork360.
C: Let’s dive into this compartmentalization, because the term we’re going to use in Europe or the US is more regionalization. And I thought it was really interesting learning from you is… not only did you take what we’d call a county and then a state: would be a province I think for you. You went smaller. You went what we’d call a premise ID or a barn, and that hectare/acres around that is a compartment and your producers put in different equipment. Kinda explain how you were able to get that precise of a compartmentalization with your government.
J: So, SA is quite vast right here. Have a look at say the boundary at the North is about 2,500-3,000km from the South, and we have a diverse climate also. So as pig farmers, there’s a huge diversity in infrastructure. There’s a huge diversity in, to a certain extent, to the climate that they farm with. So, we went to the government and said can we not regionalize compartmentalization but take each farm as a compartment. So, we registered farms then. We utilized the GS1 coding system which is a worldwide term in localizing yourself. And what we did then was we registered a farm, so a farm would be registered as a compartment. What it actually means is nothing goes in without any consent. Whatever you take into that farm there’s a regulated process. There’s a do and a don’t onto that concept that you cannot do. That concept of taking a farm and making a [20:00] farm a compartment worked for us. But you also need to understand, we don’t have the amount of farmers in SA that you have in America. So, for us to control and to manage that concept is easy. I think that’s the first thing.
The second thing is I think what is different between us and maybe Europe or the US or even Asia; for us, our government they do not play that big role into the management of provinces. So, provinces would be… they would manage under the guardians of the national authority that we have, but they will do their own thing. So, we just said to ourselves, we need to standardize this process. We can’t have 11 provinces and 11 kinds of concepts to manage this. We came up with one concept; we asked government to do it according to the OAE standard, and we utilize that one concept on a farm. Each farm is standardized on the same concept – doesn’t matter, irrespective of where they are in SA. And I think it worked for us. I think what we’ve learned through that is you need to make it less cumbersome – and if I say less cumbersome, we don’t budge on health, but you need to standardize it. And the moment you standardize it, people know what to do, it’s easier to do. There’s no conflict of interest between provinces where they do it differently. And that worked. Remember, what we also said about compartments is compartments for us is about trade. And we do define exports, but we call it trade, and we say even though I trade between say Gauteng, which is one province to the Cape province with us, that’s an export in our minds. If we export from Capetown to Germany, that’s an export. So, we reckon that even also as an export. So, for us the standardization brought a lot of comfort in managing the process, and I think it also brought a lot of comfort amongst farmers that we have a unified system.
C: Very interesting on that point. Let’s talk about biosecurity, because we’ve talked about a lot of different things here and we’re changing some of our biosecurity principles. Not only because of ASF, but PRRS and everything else we deal with. What are some of the key things on biosecurity that your producers do that could be an example for the world to get ASF under control?
J: You know, I think maybe the first one is biosecurity for us starts with you limit movement. The less movement you have, the easier it is to be biosecure. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is biosecurity is a lifestyle. It is something you don’t do because you need to do it, it’s something you do because you can’t afford not to do it. And we push as hard as we can to put that into that space. I think SA lends itself to be biosecure by nature, and if I say that we would have farms that the closest farm to that farm would be 30km. I don’t know how many miles that is, but it’s quite far.
C: Pretty good distance.
J: Yeah, so the way we produce here lends us to be more biosecure out of the natural resources that we have. So, the new investments in SA and we had a year ago, two years ago, we had a lot of new investments through our own farming community. It’s all rural. It’s all remote… as far as you can, and purely because of the biosecurity issue. So that would be one of the key things which I think, which is kinda of pristine in SA. It lends us to be more biosecure out of the natural resources we have. I think some concepts that we deal with that is – and I think it’s worldwide but focus areas for us – I think spraying booths, going into our farms, make sure that the vehicles entering a farm or entering a premises, or a compartment is quite a big thing. [24:00] We don’t utilize vehicles – so I’m talking about the top farmers now – we don’t utilize vehicles, if a vehicle goes into a compartment, it stays there for its lifetime. You don’t take it out. We don’t take food in. Big farmers do a dry shower, and then the dry shower is not at the wet shower; they drive to the wet shower, and then they do a wet shower and then they go in. So, there are some concepts that really pushes us into a space where we really try to mitigate our risks. So, I think that is also concepts that we deal with.
People is always a big concern to us because our people don’t stay on the farm. Our workers normally stay in townships where they farm with pigs, and that is the way life goes with us. We also manage that through I think very strong disciplines, I think, and that’s something that I think we as farmers that we really do attend to have a discipline in the way that you apply biosecurity. And then I think some stuff we never talk about is: for us, if you are a worker on a farm, a owner, or the kin of your own farm, biosecurity can’t kid about that. Even the kin shower in and shower out and go through the dry shower, so I think that’s something that we’re quite strict on. We’re not lenient towards anything that goes by, “I don’t need to do it today.” No, I think as S Africans, because we don’t have any safety nets on ASF, we are strict on discipline in applying biosecurity. We call it a military discipline that we push into that space. I think our veterinarians play a major role in this, in accreditating that and also auditing that discipline into our systems. So, I think that is a few things that we do as S African farmers. I think when you go to the abattoir side, we also have a protocol on the abattoir side [26:00] on how to manage biosecurity, where they are also audited. They also go through a protocol system that is audited by external auditors, so that the internal audits and also external auditors. So, we try to push as far as we can to make sure that the biosecurity goes through the whole value chain, and it is well regulated.
Maybe two other things that we do, and I don’t know if is that the world is doing, I don’t know that it’s common practice, but it works for us. The first thing is on-farm biosecurity audit. And we do that not through the vet that’s the practicing vet, we utilize other vets, purely because I think you can be, to a certain extent, have a blind spot if you are the vet on the farm, so we utilize other vets to come in and do a biosecurity on-farm audit. And that audit is not a stick. That’s not something to give somebody a hiding. That audit and the outcome of the audit is for us a target to work towards. So, it is something that we turn from a negative into a positive, to say let’s work toward that to make sure we are safe. So that’s what I said to you is we are mitigating risk, and that’s one of the ideas we push into it. So that audit is also done on the abattoirs. That’s also done not on the vet at the abattoir but also external vets.
I think the one that we do for us that is extraordinary is we do a contingency plan on if we have a break. If I say it’s extraordinary, I think a lot of people think it will never happen, and we – even us – battled with that, and even today people think that it will never happen. And what we found with ASF if it breaks, if you were not prepared, it’s 10 times worse than what it was when it started. So ASF is a slow virus. What we’ve experienced through all the outbreaks, it’s not something you have it today and tomorrow [28:00] – say on the weaner side of 10,000 pigs – you’re gonna have the next day 10,000 sick pigs. It’s gradually, but eventually, it just multiplies and just kill your all. But you have a grace period of a week, a week and a half. And the contingency plan is something that helps us big time to say you need to pre-empt what are you doing if you break. And how can you keep the farmer still financially independent? There are some good methods to do that. And I think – so as the SAPPO – we push as hard as we can for on-farm biosecurity audits and we do a contingency plan, which is then also regionalized, and also rolled out as a national kind of concept.
C: Well, my life philosophy is plan for the worst and hope for the best, so it sounds like SA pork producers are very similar.
J: Yeah, I think you know what, for us ASF is not a textbook concept. It’s reality. And I think we’ve – through – the pain we’ve learned that there’s no grace in this. You need to push as hard as you can, and if you – we all believe we’re not gonna have it by God’s grace, but I can tell you we operate as if it is gonna happen because it happened in the past. The take is that we’ve learned is that you can manage it and you can stay financially independent. There is a way. But then you need to act swiftly, and you need to make sure 3 days you need to be out, and is it possible – well, that’s what the contingency plan needs to tell us and if not, that’s what we work towards.
We wanna take this break to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management and Pig Progress. But we also wanted to remind you of our new Facebook group, the Global Swine Professionals. We’re gonna be doing something fun; some live interviews, some Q&A and we just wanna hear from our audience, so that’s a great place for you to take the time, leave us a comment, tell us what you wanna hear, or volunteer to be on our show, because we’re always looking for those awesome pork producers around the world. Well, that’s all I had, so let’s get back to that appisode now.
C: Just kinda curious – you have to tell the audience about the story you told me on the outbreak in slums and how one producer was not able to get ASF. I love that story.
J: Yeah, so again… I think when you asked in the start how do we function informal or formal or commercial, our informal settlement and the way that you affects is not to say a lesser quality. It’s not to say its lesser health practice. It depends on the practice they utilize. But we broke in Capetown in a place called Emfuleni, which is highly densed. It’s really slums. And in the slums, in the middle, in a highly environmental sensitive area, they farmer pigs. And their total count is 5,000 standing pigs. I think it was 142 owners of the 5,000 pigs and there’s no walkway, there’s no high fence between pigs. It is literally a bit of a wired structure, amongst the pig farmers, so there’s no biosecurity. I can’t stand up and say this is the way you’re gonna do it and this is how your biosecurity is gonna be good, but what they battled with is they battled theft before they had ASF, so they were quite good in how to protect their pigs from people stealing their pigs. The one particular farmer – so the government went in, we assisted, and there was a lot of work which was done, and we depopulated a few farmers, which they had really a bad outbreak of ASF amongst the farmers that were farming there. The one particular guy we didn’t depopulate his little pen and his [32:00] farm, where his farm has to say where he farms. When we got back, we went back regularly on a regular basis, but just to expect this whole 5,000 is gonna be infested and we’re gonna lost all 5,000. He never got ASF, and one of the reasons why is he did 2 things that was profound. He didn’t utilize the same clothes to work inside his little piggery, and I’m not talking about showering in and showering out. You call it a 40-gallon drum that he cut in half, he put some disinfectants inside, he disinfected his feet while going in, he was the only guy going in, he changed his clothes and he had dogs around his piggery. So, nobody could make contact with them. So, what he did was he limited movement. And I couldn’t believe this. I couldn’t believe that he survived throughout this harsh condition. If you asked me, I’m a virus, I’ll just look at this and say you’re dead, you’re gone, and he could maintain that, and one thing that came to mind here was the mind shift that he made. The moment that he understood what could happen and what he should do, he just – what he had he utilized, and he saved himself. So, I think you need to have contact. It’s not an airborne disease. It’s not something that flies over to the next guy and well now you have it. It needs contact. That contact is either pigs or pork: the meat, so he just prevented that. So, in the midst of this harsh condition, he saved himself and he still has his pigs, and it’s looking good. So, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the way that he kept himself. The beauty of this is it just gave us enough armor to say to ourselves and energy to ourselves to say it can be managed. Even though you don’t even have all the resources, when you limit it, whatever you have you need to utilize [34:00] and protect yourself, and it works.
C: That, to me, is like, I don’t know, a great story in the midst of chaos in dealing with it with that producer. Let’s talk about one of the great things about raising pigs in SA. In talking to different producers and working with my friends there a little bit on the nutrition side of things, is you guys don’t have PRRS. Kind of explain – you guys have chosen not to get PRRS. Kind of talk about that through your decisions and kind of that mindset of not getting some of these other diseases that are financial drains every year for other producers around the world.
J: Yeah. I think it’s… PRRS to us is a big controversial, because whenever you talk about PRRS, it seems to us the way we protect ourselves is a trade barrier. Which it’s not. I think as SA farmers, we know that ASF imposes a great risk. But the greatest of them all is PRRS, because you need to live with it, but your production’s just gonna go down. So, we know that, so as SA farmers, we are to a certain extent protective over this whole concept to say – how can we protect SA not to get PRRS. So, we don’t have PRRS in SA. The way we protect ourselves to make sure that nothing that comes in would impose any risk of spreading PRRS. So even though you bring or you import from countries where they have PRRS and you go through the Veterinarian procedure motion where you cook the meat and you make sure that the meat is safe, which we also believe in, you need to understand the management thereof. There’s not always on the same standard as what we have on the rest of the world. What do I mean by that? Our systems at the port are not always that good. The protection through the act is not always that good. So sometimes it may slip through. So, that’s why we as farmers [36:00] are quite prone and pushy to say can we prevent this and please can whatever we imported needs to be clean. So, I think that’s the first thing.
The second thing is I think compartmentalization helped us, where the concept kicked in. ASF is vivid, when you got hit by it, it’s a no-no, you know 100%’s gonna die, it’s a mortality that’s absolutely ruthless. I think that concept of ASF helped us – as with the guy that protected, security-wise, protected his pigs and they never got ASF – I think for us SA farmers it’s exactly the same kind of concept, that ASF taught us that there’s only one way. It’s either you’re in and you say I’m in for biosecurity and I’ll protect myself or I’m good-bye. And I think that helped us big time.
I think one thing we never talk about, which is for me as the manager or the CEO of the industry, something that’s profound for SA, is we have passionate farmers. And if I say passionate farmers, I mean they farm with passion. They are involved. We don’t manage our farms; we live our farms. For us, farming is a way of living. Farming is – and I think it’s the same in the US, I’ve seen many people in Europe also with the same concept, but that’s something that if you asked me today what is extraordinary in SA, if you talk farmer wise, I would say to you – I think the passion we have is extraordinary. And that passion grows with health. If there is something that a SA farm is – if I was born in a pig farmer’s house, the first thing I learn when I can speak is to say I need to be healthy, because that’s the way we live. And I think it’s so impounded so part and parcel of our culture and the way we live and the passion that we have that it helps us to protect ourselves. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we still don’t have it. That is, [38:00] I think, part of one of the few reasons. I think the other one we spoke about is remember SA we don’t farm in a densed way. We’re all over so we can manage it. If we have an outbreak, you can maintain that outbreak in a commercial farm where that farmer is. That’s not gonna spread to the neighbor who’s living 20km from where that farmer is. So, I think that also helps us. On PRRS itself, I think it’s a greater risk than ASF, because of the long-term influence on profitability and the difficulty to get yourself out of it. So, for us that is a great risk and it’s a great concern, and that’s why we really are attentive to fight it and to make sure we are not gonna have it.
C: Well, some great insights of how to properly live with ASF and other diseases and live biosecurity, be passionate about what you do. It’s always turned on in your mind going in there. But… before we go, I always like to give my guests the opportunity to turn the table and ask me a question, so do you have any questions you’d like to ask?
J: Yeah! I would like to learn also, and I think we’re in a space where – I don’t know – I think the rest of the world are also in there, may be different in the way we live and the way we function culture-wise. I think COVID-19 taught us that the world is never gonna be the same again. In SA, as farmers, we know we’re not gonna go back to the old normal is what we call it. I think we all know we’re in for a good journey, but a different journey. I don’t know how is it with you in the US. With us to a certain extent, we had the right to farm. What I mean by that is I have my land; I’m… capital is enough to farm, my working capital is good. My management is good, and we have a stunning market, huge demand, and this kind of gave us the mindset of that I have the right to farm, then I farm and we’re good. Then all of a sudden, we were deprived [40:00] by the COVID concept and also as you know we had some looting in SA; politically we’re not at a good space. All of this just got us to a war where we stopped, and we couldn’t farm anymore, and I think the concept then came back where we asked ourselves, how’s our future gonna look like? And when you think of that future, the different mindset came up to say but you know what, I don’t have the right to farm anymore, I’d rather go into a space where I’m gonna be privileged to farm in five years’ time. If we just have a look at nature, I think in SA if you’re rich and you have a lot of money and you wanna have a beach house, you’re normally build it on the beach and sometimes you’re a bit under the flood line, and we’ve learned is one great storm and your house is gone, irrespective of your amount of money. So, the question I want to ask you is to say how do you view the future, and what concept is gonna give you as farmers the permission to farm in five years from now?
C: And I know you brought this up and you want me to record a video for your virtual meetings that you’re having here this fall, and that’s a tough question. It kinda hit a cord when you explained it and [I] listened to your video and your response. I think that is very valid, the right to farm, and the privilege to farm and changing that mindset. And you know I see the internal debate in my country regardless of the pork industry about are you vaccinated or are you not vaccinated over COVID, and you know our country is torn internally on every political issue. It’s a hot fire button. But then you drive down to the pork industry and we constantly talk about labor shortages. We talk about – I just talked to a producer – on top of our labor [42:00] shortage and COVID, and in quarantine still. You know the future is we’ve gotta figure out this labor issue, period. And I think the cost of production’s gonna have to increase and you know that mindset that I really liked and appreciated… you know we have passionate producers involved every day. We have a very diverse system here in the US as well, and if we look at the packer agreements and everything going on, and these large vet groups doing different management systems, I’m very concerned that we will have 10-15 top producers and that’s what’s gonna be left, or that’s what’s gonna be competitive. And when you get to that point, that passion, that ownership, that changes the mindset, and I think that’s our number 1 labor issue we have in the US is that we have no ownership or no pride in what we do. It’s a job. It’s, you know, we just check the boxes because that’s the type of people we’re putting in our facilities. That’s even the type of management that we put in our facilities. We check our boxes, we hit our numbers and that’s good enough. And then everything we do – I was even at a poultry conference – we talk about least cost, not best cost, and you know I think we’re gonna really have to change our mindsets. Everybody gets upset because Prop12’s here and we’re just out of options to fight it in the US from a legal standpoint, and my mindset is it’s here, let’s deal with it, and let’s plan for the next one, right? And obviously politics change around the states. We have that issue going on, between our – like your provinces that you talked about, our states can set their own laws, too, so we have issues like that, but it’s not gonna be a land issue to farm; it’s not gonna maybe be a resource issue to farm, but it’s gonna be the human capital I think to farm, and [44:00] you know, unfortunately, how the US has thought about pork production – and I don’t know if it’s a government standpoint or if it’s a National Pork Producers’ Council standpoint or a packers’ standpoint, right? You know we are getting rid of our independent smaller producers, and I think that’s gonna be really tough. We’re talking about even a dairy industry here that so many farms keep going into foreclosure, because you know I go and buy a gallon of milk for a dollar, $1.16, but you can’t raise cattle and produce that gallon of milk for $1.16/gallon anymore. So, I think the privilege to farm, we’re gonna need the consumers to support us and be willing to pay higher prices. And we’re gonna have to get the right people back in our barns, because the animal husbandry is not there. The mindset that I’m gonna live biosecurity; I’m gonna live animal welfare, I’m gonna do best cost versus least cost; to me that’s a lot of things we need to look at. We need to have I think a different type of leadership in our industry, and instead of attacking and fighting our opponents, we need to come to the table and work with them. And that’s what’s gonna give us the privilege to farm is the producers that sit down with those people and work with them, versus thinking that we can lobby and keep fighting them. Because they have more money, they have more power, and we will lose.
J: Beautiful, yeah. Beautiful. Yeah. Listen, I can tell you something about the passion. You know, if there’s passion, there’s a way. And sometimes our passion in SA was directed in the wrong direction due to politics. But farming comes back. And I think the passion to farm and the passion of farmers are pushing into a new dimension in SA. And what I know [46:00] about that passion is you don’t need to ask somebody to protect themselves. It’s just natural. You don’t need to ask somebody to be cost effective. You don’t need to ask somebody to be profitable and production effective. They just push naturally into that space. And I think that’s one thing – that’s what I said to you – that helps us against ASF is this passion. Because ASF is manageable, but it starts with you. If you are an owner of a farm, and you have people working for you, and you just need to quickly pop in and you don’t shower in, shower out, you did. Because why would your farmers, why would your workers do that? And the passion with us is we live it to such an extent that you don’t have the option not to do it, because we do it anyhow. It’s done. Nobody asks me to do it. I think something that we as S Africans also have is that our government plays a lesser role than what you have in the developed countries. So as a developing country, the role of government is to a lesser extent as involved as what you have. The unfortunate part in the development side is it sometimes gives you a false comfort. It puts you into a false comfort zone. Because I can’t care how good your government is, when I walked into my farm, I am the state president. How do I act? I need to take responsibility for that. If I have a government that gives me the comfort of if something goes wrong, don’t stress I’ll come in and help you, I’ve missed the opportunity to mitigate my own risks, because I’m in a comfort zone. I think our harsh reality started years ago already where we realized that. Not fighting government, not belittling government; they play a major role with us: that’s a great stakeholder for us. But the moment you walk into that farm, and it’s your farm, you’re the state president. You call the shots inside [48:00] the country’s kind of concept and protocol. But it starts with you. You need to protect yourself. It starts with the workers. It starts with passion there. I don’t know if you get my point by saying passion is one of the remedies of fighting a disease, of overcoming this battle, of getting the courage to say I’m gonna stand up, I’m not gonna let go. I think that’s something that is if you think about a SA farmer, you think about that passion. You think about the love we have for what we do. And the intensity that we farm with. And if you talk to the people being suppliers, if it is their farm, sometimes you need to remind them and say “Listen, it’s my pigs, not yours, just calm down!” But that’s what you want inside this thing working together. So, I think it’s soft issues we never talk about but with a massive outcome if you lose that passion. When you start ticking boxes, if I’m a virus, it’s the first people I will visit. The passionate people is the ones that I want to run from. The big box-tickers – someday you’re gonna miss that tick and then the virus is in.
C: You’re exactly right. It doesn’t matter what farm I’m on; I feel like they’re my pigs and they’re my responsibility to give ‘em the best life. I get tired of hearing from my industry, “Well, there was a reason why we did it that way.” Well, it doesn’t matter, we have a new reality and a new future and we have to adapt or we will die. That’s evolution.
J: Sometimes the reason is good to understand and learn from. But sometimes we use the reason as a crutch.
J: I don’t know about you, but I hate running with crutches. I run with the freedom that God gave me, and I think even though we found the reason, we just want to be better. We just wanna better ourselves.
C: Well, thank you, Johann! I don’t know about all of you, but I really enjoyed some of his comments. What I really found interesting is how they took the idea of regionalization – [50:00] and they call it compartmentalization – and took it al the way down to the farm level or site level. That’s an interesting perspective as we consider how we’re gonna deal with ASF in these different countries and regions. As we know, some countries are smaller and some are larger, so some of their insights can be very impactful and helpful for all of us in the industry. So, thank you everyone and if you get a chance, hug a pig today.
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