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Ontario invests in pork research

Ontario invests in pork research
The sector welcomes the construction of a swine research facility in Elora 


By Owen Roberts

As an industry, Ontario’s 1,200 pork producers have long been forward thinkers.

They were committed to communicating about their sector, and supporting agricultural communications broadly, before many others had even started thinking about it.

Part of this approach was visionary; part was borne out of necessity. Environmentalists and activists criticized pig farmers’ production methods and targeted them in much the same way that other sectors are now feeling the heat.

Pork producers responded by banding together under Ontario Pork, hiring some of the best communicators around and creating campaigns to educate the public about who they are and what they do.

In fact, some of the modern day get-to-know-a farmer programs owe a nod of gratitude to pork producers’ early efforts. They were at the head of this movement.

As well, pig farmers have been leaders in supporting research, almost exclusively at the University of Guelph, to advance their environmental and production agendas.  They were early at the table when the province urged the agricultural industry to invest in itself and be a research partner, which is one of Ontario Pork’s core values.

That forward-thinking approach had a positive overall effect on the industry, and on its relationship with the province. A huge difference in culture exists when you’re a partner – besides showing buy-in, you also get a stronger say in setting priorities.

That’s something the agriculture sector has become very good at: listening to its members as well as consumers, and investing where the money will do the most good.

Research is one of those areas. On Tuesday, pork producers took another step forward when Ontario Pork partnered with the province, the University of Guelph and the Ontario government (through the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario) to announce a new research facility would be built at the newly expanded Elora Research Station. The province will contribute $12 million and pork producers will commit $3 million to the facility.

Pork researchers currently conduct their work at the facility near Arkell, which used to be a remote locale. But Guelph’s south end has grown, and continues to do so, making the relatively isolated Elora station much more suitable. The province and other livestock sectors – notably, dairy and beef – have already invested in infrastructure there, as well.

It’s expected construction of the facility will take about three years. The university says researchers will use the facility for wide-ranging studies, including animal health, nutrition and welfare, consumer-oriented research, environmental factors, genetics and genomics, nutrient management and reproduction.

Ontario Pork generates $2.8 billion in economic output annually and is responsible for more than 14,200 jobs.  Eric Schwindt, chair of Ontario Pork, says the Elora infrastructure will advance knowledge and support the development of new technologies and practices.

The Elora facility announcement is welcome news for pork producers, who lately have become caught up in the Canada-China diplomacy battle, with China threatening to ban meat imports from Canada.

Research isn’t the only answer to such controversies, but it helps sort out fact from fiction and gives producers solid ground to find alternatives when necessary – or when desirable.

Photo Credit: Province of Ontario

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