Growth of production animal farms impacting on the economy and animal disease risks


<p>The average size of production animal farms has increased and the number of farms has decreased. This structural trend is forecast to continue in the future. Larger farms bring economic benefits by reducing expenses such as unit production costs. A report by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) also examines the various challenges related to managing the risk posed by animal diseases.&nbsp;</p>

The study considered the risk that the highly disease transmission foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever and bluetongue (which affects ruminants) will spread and the related economic implications for Finland. These are dangerous, highly disease transmission animal diseases which are not yet present in Finland. However, due to the changed animal disease situation in neighbouring regions, there is a chance that they will infect Finnish pigs, cattle, sheep and goats.

Benefits and harm due to growth in farm sizes

Growth in farm sizes can generate economic benefits. It has been calculated that larger dairy and pig farms have lower unit production costs. Specialisation among pig farms and the division of labour between farms also bring economic benefits.

However, the eradication of diseases imposes costs. A risk assessment has shown that, due to larger and more intensively networked farms, the eradication costs associated with foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever could rise.

"An important way of reducing the risk of disease transmission and the related costs would involve improving the transport of animals and reducing contacts between farms. The way in which animal transports between farms develop and whether they increase as the sizes of farms grow will have a major effect on the risk of disease transmisson," says Senior Researcher, PhD Tapani Lyytikäinen from Evira's Risk Assessment Research Unit.

Losses due to foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever would also be increased by the effect of these diseases on foreign trade.

"The pig and dairy sectors could suffer tens of millions of euros in losses, if meat and dairy product exports are blocked due to disease. Despite the risks, the unit production costs of dairy farms, for example, could be reduced by increasing farm sizes if there is a sufficient focus on risk management," says Professor Jarkko Niemi of the Natural Resources Institute Finland. 

Larger farms have better biosecurite

"The study observes that large farms have better disease protection than smaller ones. The number of small farms is falling as development progresses, while the average level of disease protection is improving. According to our survey, disease protection is better on farms where production is set to continue for a long time," says Lyytikäinen.

Foot-and-mouth disease has most potential to spread, because the likelihood of disease transmission and the size of epidemics are greater than in the case of African swine fever and bluetongue. Since foot-and-mouth disease has many more transmission routes than the other studied diseases, the structural trend will have the greatest impact on the disease transmission risk associated with this disease.

It will have less effect in the case of African swine fever and bluetongue, due to the minor risk of these diseases spreading. The study suggests that sheep and goats play only a small role in the spread of diseases in Finland.

Read the Risk Assessment Report in its entirety:
The effects of structural change in agriculture on the spread of animal disease in Finland.

Additional information:
Professor Jarkko Niemi, Luke, tel. +358 40 358 0487 
Senior Researcher, Head of Section Tapani Lyytikäinen, Evira, tel. +358 400 614 380




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