Making Progress Through Research

By Kees de Lange, University of Guelph - This article is from a collection of the scientific papers presented at the 2006 London Swine Conference.
calendar icon 9 October 2006
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Improvements in pork production efficiencies and pork meat quality, reductions in environmental impacts of pork production, and improvements in well-being of pigs are the results of new knowledge and the effective application of knowledge in commercial pork production. The return on investment in pork research in Canada is very favourable with an estimated cost-benefit ratio of 22.4 to 1. At the University of Guelph a research program is in place that addresses research goals and objectives that have been established based on industry-wide consultations. Two key supporters of this research program are Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Ontario Pork.

This program is the largest pork research program in Canada and is conducted in a wide range of public research facilities and on commercial farms. Increasingly research is conducted in collaboration with partner institutions, such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, commercial companies and, indeed, institutions from around the world. Given the increasing complexity of research activities and high costs of conducting state-of-the-art research, effective collaboration with partner institutions is critical for the development of new and useful technologies, or to support new policies for the industry. A complete overview of research activities and research findings at the University of Guelph can be accessed via the internet

The University of Guelph no longer has a mandate for traditional extension activities. Moreover, greater demands from the society at large and reductions in available resources have forced OMAFRA to focus more on policy development and alter its approach to extension activities. As a result, the University of Guelph and OMAFRA rely increasingly on industry partners, such as veterinarians and feed industry personnel, to facilitate the application of new knowledge in commercial pork production. Continued public support will become increasingly important to maintain a solid research infra-structure in Ontario, to train people that will contribute to the Ontario pork industry, and to respond to new challenges and opportunities that may arise in the future. Feedback to the research at the University of Guelph is welcomed.


For the Ontario pork industry to remain internationally competitive, and sustainable, continued improvements in production efficiencies, meat quality, reductions in environmental impacts, and improvements in well-being of pigs are essential. This, is turn, requires effective and rapid application of new knowledge in commercial pork production. Moreover, solid information and new technologies are required to develop or refine policies and regulations, such as those related to nutrient management, animal welfare, food safety and quality assurance, and management of disease outbreaks. Finally, conducting research provides an important opportunity for training people that can contribute to future success of the Ontario pork industry.

In this paper, a brief overview of public research activities in Ontario is given, some achievements are highlighted, and future perspectives are provided.


In Ontario, the University of Guelph is the main centre for publicly funded pork production research, in particular since the regional Agricultural Colleges (e.g. Ridgetown College) have become part of the University of Guelph. During the last several years, the total annual budget for pork research has varied between $6 and $7 million, making the program at the University of Guelph the largest pork research program in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provides very substantial financial support for this research, about 45% of total funds, under the unique OMAFRA and University of Guelph research partnership program. This agreement is re-negotiated every fours years.

Apart from OMAFRA, Ontario Pork (about 15% of total) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) are the largest financial supporters of pork research, followed by a large number of public funding agencies and private companies. The University of Guelph/OMAFRA Pork Research Program currently supports 45 research projects that involve 38 different lead researchers that are supported by an even larger number of graduate students, research technicians, post-doctoral fellows and research associates. Information on each of these projects is available via the internet ( These research projects are organized by goals and objectives, which are established based on industry wide consultation and under the direction of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO).

Under this program, researchers have the freedom to explore innovative ideas that are consistent with the program’s goals and objectives. A committee of experts, representing the scientific community, OMAFRA, and the commercial industry, reviews new research proposals and research progress annually. In addition, a formal and external review of the entire pork research program is conducted every four years. A listing of projects that are currently registered under this University of Guelph and OMAFRA partnership program is provided in the appendix to this paper. According to the current research plan, close to 20% of funds are dedicated to environmental research, 30% to pork quality and safety research, 40% towards improvement in production efficiency and 10% to research on animal behaviour and wellbeing. These are the four key aspects of a sustainable pork production industry in Ontario.

Physical research facilities include a number and diverse types of animal holding facilities that are complemented by a range of laboratory facilities (Table 1). In addition, individual researchers control their own nutrition, physiology, microbiology, or molecular laboratories to support their research activities. The most recent expansion of research capabilities have been in the area of molecular biology and food safety, which reflects the use of the newest techniques in animal biology research and changes in public concerns about food safety.

These facilities provide researchers with state-of-the-art facilities to conduct research, but continuous re-investment in these facilities will be required to maintain top quality research. An additional issue is the substantial urban development in close proximity to the Arkell swine unit, which will likely force a relocation of this pork production oriented research facility within the next 5 to 10 years.

Further Information

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June 2006

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