Celebrating 10 years of taking action for animal health in Iowa
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Celebrating 10 years of taking action for animal health in Iowa

There are a lot of places in the world you can go and be innovative, but Iowa is a place where innovation happens.

That was the resounding sentiment shared by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig during a panel discussion at the 2024 World Pork Expo on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

In Sec. Naig’s opinion, this bias toward action is what sets the state apart from the rest of the country and the world in terms of animal health excellence.

“For example, it’s one thing to detect animal disease at the border, in the environment or at a facility,” he said. “But then you have to make that information actionable.”

The panel, pulled together to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of America’s Cultivation Corridor, and specifically 10 years of innovation in animal health and food safety, was moderated by Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen, Ph.D. 

Panel discussion on animal health innovation during World Pork Expo in Des Moines.

Diagnostic advancements

Pres. Wintersteen highlighted advancements in the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (VDL) at Iowa State, which now processes about 1.6 million samples annually with results available in less than 24 hours.

Sec. Naig can’t imagine going back to the three-to-four days it would take to get results on the 30,000 samples processed in 1976.

“Now, we literally can drive samples to the VDL in the morning and have accurate, actionable results by late morning,” he said. “In fact, the first tests diagnosing highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI in dairy cows were conducted at the VDL.”

President Wintersteen points out the lab is not an independent entity at the university, but rather part of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine and made up of researchers, faculty and scientists who are constantly exploring new technologies for detecting and controlling disease.

“Iowa State University researchers have developed a new testing methodology for Japanese encephalitis virus in swine,” Pres. Wintersteen said. “We don’t have this disease in the U.S., but we want to be prepared.”

Preventing disease

Iowa definitely is a leader in animal diagnostics and, unfortunately, has significant experience with disease investigations and control with the recent HPAI outbreaks, but there also is incredible innovation happening around disease prevention.

B.J. Brugman, founder and CEO of Distynct, is applying the principles of machine connectivity and diagnostics introduced by John Deere and its JDLinkTM system for equipment used in row crop production to raising healthy livestock.

“Their technology moved us from diagnosing problems post-breakdown to monitoring for indicators to prevent breakdowns in the first place,” Brugman said. “The same thing is true of animals. If we can get more information faster about the animal and the environment, we can start to anticipate health status and potentially prevent issues before they occur.”

Kent Nutrition Group, a nearly 100-year-old agriculture business out of Muscatine, is taking a preventative approach as well, but through feed ingredients.

“Increasingly, the livestock industry is looking for ways to maintain animal health and welfare while also reducing reliance on antibiotics,” Mike Gauss, president of Kent Nutrition Group, said.  “We’re exploring how feed ingredients, like probiotics, and working with an animal’s microbiome, can benefit the animal and the producer by fostering immunity to disease.”

Looking toward the future

Despite the tremendous advancements in animal health over the last 10 years, the panel speakers all indicated the innovation is just beginning.

Brugman sees opportunities to bring other technologies into barns using the internet connectivity his team has helped install.

“We’re not going to invent every device that will help producers monitor their barns and animals, but we can help provide the necessary connectivity so producers have the opportunity to implement and benefit from new technologies,” he said.

Kent has set aside a group of experts within their company and given them the resources and freedom to imagine what comes next.

“We are working on new products for our customers that help improve animal survivability,” Gauss said. “Which, if you think about it, is critical to business success for farmers and to the sustainability of food production.” 

Secretary Naig imagines a day when the type of connectivity Brugman is working on, which helps producers manage their day-to-day operations, can be turned on in a crisis to improve detection, tracking and control in an animal disease investigation.

All of this, according to the panelists, is uniquely happening in Iowa thanks to a favorable regulatory and business environment where businesses can start, grow and thrive. In fact, Brugman and his wife, both Iowa State University graduates, used to dream about getting back to the state before he started Distynct, which is based in the ISU Research Park.

“The really cool thing about Iowa is you don’t have to go very far before you run into someone with an entrepreneurial spirit who inspires you. It’s contagious and, you CAN build it in Iowa,” he said.  

Published June 2024.


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