Iowa is the nation’s top pork producing state and researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working to help producers raise healthier pigs that can resist deadly and costly diseases. USDA research scientist Dr. Joan Lunney notes most pork producers already raise pigs in bio-secure environments.

“However, viruses and bacteria can come in on trucks, can come in on your shoes, they can come in with a new shipment of pigs that come from a growing out facility,” Lunney says. “So ,we always have to worry about when that virus comes in – what do we do about it?” Lunney and her colleagues are looking to make pigs immune to diseases leading to healthier animals that can get to market sooner.

“To be able to design more effective vaccines, to identify pigs that are healthier, that respond to stress appropriately, that have a better well-being. To able to know what their immune response is, and to ask whether genetically some of them may be better responders to vaccines, we call them vaccine-ready pigs,” Lunney says. A disease like Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, can cost farmers a lot of money if it affects their herds.

“For breeders and producers, they well know that once you have a disease, many times you have production losses, and with PRRS we know there are 642 million dollars in production losses per year in the United States alone,” Lunney says. Iowa pork producers raise roughly 30 million hogs a year.