MRLS racks up $336 million in losses

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Louisville, Ky.-A third of a billion dollars is the price tag on the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS), which wreaked havoc on the Kentucky horse industry last spring, according to a recently published economic report.

Louisville, Ky.-A third of a billion dollars is the price tagon the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS), which wreaked havoc on theKentucky horse industry last spring, according to a recently published economicreport.

The study, commissioned by Kentucky Governor Paul Patton and conductedby the University of Louisville's Department of Equine Business, projectsthat 30 percent of the anticipated 2002 Thoroughbred foal crop in Kentuckyis lost due to the syndrome. Economic impact to the state from losses thataffected all horse breeds is in the $336 million ballpark for the years2000 to 2003.

"We had already heard reports based on some preliminary investigationby the University of Kentucky that the impact was on the order of magnitudeof 20 to 30 percent for the Thoroughbred horses," says Dr. RichardThalheimer, University of Louisville professor and lead investigator ofthe study.

"The percentage was very high, but we were not surprised. It confirmedour understanding that the impact was very large."

More than 1,000 breeders and farm operations participated in the survey,which tracked six breeds of horses (accounting for 96 percent of registeredfoals in Kentucky). Response rate was 28.1 percent. Thoroughbred breedersfaced the heaviest economic losses, accounting for $300.5 million of thetotal, or 89 percent.

Financial breakdown

Each lost Thoroughbred foal is figured to have an economic impact of$85,142. The estimate includes a portion of the mare cost, the stud fee,weanling cost, and yearling cost. Losses were spread out over four years,from 2000, when this year's foals were conceived, to 2003, when next year'sfoals will be sold as yearlings.

The study indicates losses of $15.2 million in 2000, $109.4 million in2001, $124.8 million in 2002, and $51.1 million in 2003.

Domino effect

Besides the obvious - horse breeders, stallion owners, horse farm operations,and farriers -veterinarians are among those affected by the loss in thelong run.

Economic loss to veterinarians over the 2000-2003 period is estimatedto be $16.9 million. Also there is an estimated increase to veterinariansdue to added costs in mare and foal treatment in 2001 of $1.7 million.

Dr. Thomas Riddle, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.,says the dollar figures reported in the study did not surprise him.

"Certainly there's going to be an effect," he says. "Thereare some farms that may not survive Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome. Thereare farms that are going to have to cut back on the amount of work thatveterinarians do, because they simply can't afford it."

He advises against such measures for a prolonged period because "theyneed to continue to provide complete services to their animals, or otherwisethey end up losing more money."

Thalheimer says of veterinary losses, "To the extent that veterinarianswill lose foals that they would've cared for, that will have a negativeeffect on the income they would've received."

"On the other hand, there is an increase in income to veterinariansin 2001 because of the increased cost of treating these mares."

Riddle suspects his practice will ride out the MRLS storm.

"In my practice there is not great concern," he says. "Wefeel that we have enough depth. That will certainly make a small impacton the practice but our practice has grown every year since we've been inoperation and we expect that to probably level out in the next year, butwe'll manage."

Down the road

The study suggested that MRLS could have an economic impact for severalyears to come.

"Additional losses may also occur as a result of the scare overMRLS," the study reads, "which could result in a reduction ofmares sent to Kentucky in 2002 or in lower values for mares bred in 2001.Should MRLS recur in 2002, i.e., not be a one-time event, the losses couldbe much more dramatic over a longer period of time."

In related news

The millions of dollars that Kentucky's horse industry lost to this syndromeprompted Congress to act. A farm aid bill (H.R. 2646) has already passedthe House and is working its way through the Senate, at presstime. A portionof the monies will assist people affected by foal loss. The bill also designatesthe horse as livestock.

The economic impact study of MRLS was used to address the legislature.

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