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MONTICELLO — AgCreate Solutions in Monticello has been awarded a $99,986 federal Small Business Innovation Research COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant that will help train farmers in the best practices when taking care of swine carcasses.

“The reason why this topic has become important is that, during pandemic-instigated food movement stoppage, farmers couldn’t move pigs to harvest,” said Dr. Sarah Probst Miller, the President and Creative Director of AgCreate. “After exhausting all alternatives to market pigs, the pork industry had to do some euthanasia and/or depopulation of healthy animals. It was terribly sad, but it became clear that improving competencies of farm labor relating to carcass management was really important.”

“We have to take care of those carcasses in a way that is respectful to farm labor, the animal, and the environment,” added Probst Miller, noting that composting has proven to be an effective, ecological way to both breaking down carcasses and getting rid of diseases that may have killed the animal.

“Composting is an ecological and environmentally sustainable method to manage animal carcasses. Composting livestock mortality is not about disposal. Rather it is about how to utilize a resource. Compost has value as a soil amendment for cropping systems,” said the AgCreate founder.

The grant will be used to research and develop competency-based educational materials to best prepare farm labor to care for daily livestock mortalities and also be ready to manage carcasses during catastrophes.

“The USDA award will fund the rapid research and development of training curriculum that will equip our farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to manage high livestock mortality situations safely and effectively,” said area Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who announced the grant on Sept. 14. “Agriculture has been impacted in many ways by this pandemic, and this grant will allow AgCreate in partnership with USDA to be part of addressing this particular issue.”

AgCreate employees are wasting no time. Video production crews will be in Maryland next week to interview University of Maine Professor Mark Hutchinson, an expert on the subject. That will lead to a learning experience that will be tested among livestock workers in Kentucky and Tennessee next month.

“They’ll see the training video, complete a virtual simulation of desired end skills, do the task with a mentor, then they’ll have to teach it back to a trained verifier as part of their training,” said Probst Miller, who grew up on a pig farm.

The grant is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

AgCreate Solutions currently employs 10 people.