Many industry players are working together to commercialize an automatic swine trailer sterilization system
By Jackie Clark
Farmers and ag researchers have biosecurity top of mind due to the threat of ASF overseas and experiences with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED). So, a Canadian team is working to safeguard the industry.
When PED “crossed the border into Manitoba, there was a big concern about how in the world it had jumped the border because we have such stringent biosecurity facilities,” said Dr. Terry Fonstad, an associate professor and the associate dean of research and partnerships in the college of engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
“It turned out, they think, that the vector for the transfer was livestock trailers. Although they’re being washed and cleaned, just the sheer way that they’re designed leaves enough little nooks, crannies and pieces that you cannot get at,” he said to Farms.com.
Fonstad’s team investigated whether trailers could be effectively cleaned using a hydrovac – which is a combination of a pressure washer and high-powered vacuum, he explained.
“And then, could we make a robot do that,” he added.
Graduate students at the university and researchers at the Prairie Swine Centre (PSC) and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) investigated what methods would kill pathogens. The scientists determined that the most resilient swine pathogens died when heated to 75 C for 20 minutes, Fonstad said.
Now, project collaborators are working on the practicalities of applying this knowledge in the industry.
“We’re in between discovery and commercialization,” he said. The next phase “is about partnering with hydrovac pressure wash, and robotics people.”
Researchers are testing the effectiveness of the hydrovac wash followed by “baking” the trailers to the correct temperature for the right amount of time.
“VIDO is going to do field trials to make sure for CFIA and others that this heating of trailers is actually going to (ensure) good biosecurity,” Fonstad said. The researchers will use proxy bacteria for field trials so no risk exists of an accidental breakout.
Fonstad and his team are interested in the sterilization process itself, but also in improved trailer design for cleanability and welfare. They also prioritized verification and traceability of swine transport.
“I want to make sure I track those trailers,” he said. “I want sensors in that trailer that tell me all the hard-to-heat spots got to the right temperature.”
Transport Genie and Be Seen Be Safe are Guelph, Ont.-based companies that are designing sensors that track the surface temperature of the metal during baking and the temperature and humidity in the pig spaces during transport, Fonstad explained.
PSC researchers are contributing design insights to improve animal welfare during transit.
The project is unique in the depth of collaboration between agricultural, engineering, academic, and industry partners.
“We’re trying to do the academics required to support the industry needs, and work with the people who are supplying the solutions,” Fonstad said. A major contribution came from “our industry advisory group across Canada. We meet twice a year in Winnipeg. They’ve helped guide the research, which has helped us as researchers and developers not to misstep so much.”
The team continues to collaborate with the goal of product commercialization to help the industry.
“It’s all about biosecurity, safety of our food supply and economics,” he said.
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