By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

IPPA board member, Dale Weitekamp (right), visits with Congressman Rodney Davis (R-13th) at his office in Washington, D.C. Weitekamp spoke on behalf of pig farmers in Illinois. (Illinois Pork Producers Association photo)

In this week’s column we have highlights from Illinois Pork’s recent legislative trip to Washington D.C., straight from the association’s president. Also: Important changes are coming to the management philosophy for University of Illinois-owned farmland, and the results of a study on how alternative housing designs for pregnant sows affects production. For these items and more, please read on …

IPPA meets with Illinois delegation

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Pork Producers Association sent an eight-person leadership team to Washington, D.C. in September for the National Pork Producers Council’s (NPPC) annual legislative action conference. The contingent, which included IPPA President Jason Propst, talked with all 20 Illinois lawmakers about topics including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they support, the need for a federally funded foot and mouth disease vaccine bank, and more. In a phone chat following the trip, Propst said the most productive thing about the legislative weekend is the opportunity to “put a face” on Illinois pork producers for elected officials, many of whom represent mostly urban districts.

“We greatly appreciate our representatives and senators and their staff taking time to meet with us. This allows us to continue to build a relationship with them, and for them to realize what we do” said Propst, who farms near Neoga in Cumberland County. “A big thing we (promote) is Illinois Pork FAQs. One of the FAQs is about jobs and the economic impact livestock has on counties. For instance, Cook County has the largest economic impact from livestock because of all the processing and food sold. We need each other, and as pork producers we need to make that realization clear.”

Also making the trip was IPPA executive director Jennifer Tirey, vice-president Pam Janssen, at-large director Curt Zehr, Phil Borgic, NPPC board member, Mike Haag, president-elect, Dale Weitekamp, secretary, and Paul Wettstein of The Maschhoffs.

Study: Swine housing affects reproduction

URBANA — Pig farmers have always appreciated the metric between swine housing and reproductive performance. Results of a newly released study show that while reproductive performance has historically been considered to be pretty equal whether animals are in group housing or individual stalls, in real-world scenarios reproduction can be compromised in group settings.

This is according to University of Illinois associate professor of animal sciences Janeen Salak-Johnson, a self-described “animal welfare expert” who took a closer look at group housing. Salak-Johnson’s research pointed to low birthweight piglets or fewer piglets produced by sows put into group housing after pregnancy is confirmed. She found that differences in design, size, feeding system, and number of animals in group pens may have a huge impact on stress levels — and therefore reproductive performance — though the factors carrying the biggest impacts are not yet identified.

Proper nourishment for sows and developing piglets can be compromised due to social rank within the feeding system in competitive group housing environments, the researcher concluded, with aggressive behavior most often noted upon the initial introduction of new animals into existing social groups during feeding. “If dominant sows are not able to assert their dominance during feeding by displacing submissive individuals, they get frustrated,” Salak-Johnson stated. “That can lead to low birthweight piglets. Short feeding stalls offer some level of protection, but also allow dominant sows to exhibit normal behavior.”

To read the U of I Department of ACES article on the study, issued September 25, visit the ACES News website ACES-News@Illinois.edu.

U of I changes farm management program

URBANA — University of Illinois Board of Trustees President Tim Killeen shared the new process the university will be using in selecting farm operators for leased university-owned farmland acreage. The U of I currently owns around 10,000 acres of farmland through alumni gifts and other donors, with stewardship of the farmland leased to the highest bidders. The university’s management approach has varied over time, according to Killeen, with a recent emphasis centered on cash bids in an effort to maximize income for initiatives such as scholarships, 4-H programs and research.

The fresh approach, urged by new College of ACES dean Kim Kidwell, will emphasize selecting the most qualified farmland operators rather than simply the highest bidders. “That ‘best candidate’ approach will assess applicants based on a wide range of factors such as their experience in farming, their records as careful stewards of the land, their educational background and whether their use of modern agricultural technology and machinery best fits the parcel of land that is available,” Killeen told the U of I Board of Trustees at its Sept. 28 meeting. “The most qualified applicant will then be offered the operating contract at a predetermined rate based on local market conditions.

September finishes warm, dry

URBANA — Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel didn’t wait until Oct. 1 to proclaim September of 2017 as the fifth-driest September in state history, with an average of just 0.79 inches, 2.44 inches below normal, across the state. In addition, the average statewide temperature was 69.3 degrees, which is 3.1 degrees above normal, on Sept. 29, according to Angel’s weekly weather blog from the Illinois State Water Survey office at the Prairie Research Institute.

“As a result of the dry weather, the U.S. Drought Monitor has about 80 percent of the state in ‘abnormally dry’ conditions and another 13 percent in ‘moderate drought.’ This is based on rainfall deficits, low soil moisture, and low stream flows,” Angel reported. “According to the USDA NASS report, topsoil moisture in Illinois is rated at 32 percent ‘very dry’ and an additional 45 percent is rated as ‘dry.’”

Illinois Farm Fact:

Across Illinois, there were 135 weather records broken and another 47 tied for daily high temperatures at individual stations during September. (Ill. State Climatologist/Ill. Water Survey)