Need growing for big data on pigs

There are an increasing number of projects that collect and share data in the swine industry, to increase efficiency and manage disease

Big data and information systems are becoming an increasingly large part of the pork industry in Ontario.

Systems that were created independently for disease surveillance and software to manage pig traceability are now starting to converge, creating more efficiencies and higher value information for the sector.

Why it matters: There are increasing demands for documentation on farms. Creating efficient digital systems can help alleviate some of the duplication.

“We are working on the automation of data exchange. We’ve been working on it for years and will work on it for years to come,” said Neil Harper whose job it is to keep all the systems running and secure, as Ontario Pork’s information technology manager.

While a lot of information systems get lumped under the banner of “Big Data”, some of the pork industry projects truly could bring together large volumes of information to solve previously unsolvable problems, especially relating to disease movement.

AgManifest is the electronic hog shipping data recording system created about five years ago by Ontario Pork in partnership with processors. It had some useability issues early on, but a major update in 2017 has helped solved most of those issues, said Ken Ovington, Ontario Pork’s general manager at the recent annual meeting of the producer organization.

The mobile and desktop versions of AgManifest are now identical, said Harper.

AgManifest allows transporters to record what they have on their trucks. That information is then recorded and delivered electronically to processors. The real value for producers is that those pig movements are uploaded each day to the Canadian Pork Council’s PigTrace database that records where pigs are going and where they have come from, without any paperwork by the farmer.

The system can also now handle movement of pigs between locations within a farm system, such as when weaner pigs are moved to a finishing barn.

Tying together pig movement and disease elimination

The next step is to link pig movement and shipments with Swine Health Ontario projects to manage and eliminate swine diseases, called Area Regional Control and Eradication or ARC&E. Such projects coordinate vets, farmers and service providers to clear an area of a disease. Cooperation through the industry has meant Ontario has managed some disease outbreaks better than other areas of the world. Information systems have helped and adding movement data to those systems that track outbreaks could be even more helpful in managing a disease in the future. A good example is the lower impact of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea in Ontario compared to the United States.

Some producers have voluntarily put all their hog movements into AgManifest and then have participated in an ARC&E project.

“Epidemiologists found that information can help with an ARC&E program,” said Harper.

Farmers will have the option to enroll or stay out of such programs, although it’s expected that farmers will share in the data and reports that are generated, especially related to disease status or risk on their farms.

Ontario Pork’s information technology department is also working to add electronic documents to AgManifest, such as the Annex 4 forms that certify a farm’s ractopamine use status. Those extra forms are causing consternation for farmers and feed companies. The feed additive can increase lean yield in pigs, but major global markets have said they don’t want it used.

Ontario Pork also has created a secure connection between its database and one of the province’s major processors. The processor can pull reports each hour, instead of Ontario Pork staff having to manually send them reports that the processor then sorting through them.

Data security is always a concern, said Harper, and is a major part of the department’s focus.

About the author


John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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