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Management of Pork Interpretive Gallery Changes Hands

by 5m Editor
21 October 2006, at 10:05am

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2279. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.

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Farm-Scape, Episode 2279

Western Canada's window to the pork industry has opened a little wider with the transfer of management of the Pork Interpretive Gallery (P.I.G.) to the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board (Sask Pork).

The Pork Interpretive Gallery, originally named the Pork Industry Interpretive Centre, was constructed in the attic space of the Prairie Swine Centre's (PSC) research barn at Elstow, about 30 miles east of Saskatoon. The gallery is sealed off from the rooms below and utilizes its own independent ventilation system to ensure the potential transmission of disease is minimized. Huge picture windows allow visitors to peer directly into the rooms below in which the pigs are born and grown to market weight and where scientists study everything from how nutrition affects their health and performance, to how potentially dangerous manure gases like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can be reduced.

The $1-million facility officially opened in October 2003 and, during its first three years of operation, it has hosted over 4,500 people, half of which have been school-aged children and teachers.

Prairie Swine Centre Turns Over Management to Sask Pork

The drive to raise to raise the capital for the construction of the gallery and its initial operation was coordinated by the Prairie Swine Centre and now, with its initial three years of operation complete, day-to-day management of the facility has been turned over to the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board.

“Throughout the two years of development and fundraising, and the most recent three years of operating the Pork Interpretive Gallery, I have never been involved with a project which achieved and sustained so much grassroots support,” says Prairie Swine Centre President Dr. John Patience. “Pork producers speak of this project with great pride and admiration, matched only by the enthusiastic comments we continually receive from people who have toured the facility.”

Gallery Considered Highly Successful

“The gallery has been a huge success,” states Sask Pork general manager Neil Ketilson. “It's provided school students, teachers access to modern hog operations and so for many of the school children that have come out and toured the gallery, it's really had an influence in terms of their perceptions of the industry. The second and probably as important group is the people of influence that have gone through the gallery.”

When we speak of people of influence, Ketilson says government needs to have a better understanding of the industry because they deal with policies and programs that affect us. We think of people like RM councilors and people who are in charge of municipal affairs and municipal governance to make sure they understand our industry. And also people such as international trade people.

He says CPI (Canada Pork International), our trade association affiliate in Ottawa can bring people from outside, such as veterinarians from Russia and press people from Japan who have toured the gallery. “It gives them a very very good idea of modern commercial hog operations and that really is an invaluable piece that helps the whole industry out a tremendous amount,” he says.

Need for Biosecurity Fuels Project Support

Florian Possberg, the CEO of Humboldt based Big Sky Farms, one of Canada's largest hog production operations agrees.
“Biosecurity is a big issue. Because of our desire to start with healthy stock and keep them healthy we've created biosecure zones around our hog operations,” he says. “If people don't understand what it is that we're doing in our business, the easiest thing to do is to assume we're doing something they don't like.”

He says the idea of the pork interpretive centre was really to provide a biosecure area where the general public could view what goes on in a hog barn without risking the health and safety of our animals.

Changes Better Reflect PSC-Sask Pork Mandates

The management change, which took effect September 1, is intended to allow both Sask Pork and Prairie Swine Centre to focus on their own areas of expertise.

PSC information services manager Lee Whittington notes, “It's always been a joint venture with Sask Pork.”

When they looked at where we were going with this project, Whittington says it became evident that their mandate is to speak to the general public, whereas the mandate at Prairie Swine Centre is primarily to speak to the pork industry and provide new information to help reduce the cost of production.

“We've been pleased with organizing the fund raising and developing the interpretive gallery,” he notes. “We'll still be heavily involved in where it goes because it's in our barn but this looks like it's going to be a really good opportunity for the two organizations to specialize in the areas that they're best at - the Prairie Swine Centre to make sure the barn is there and operating like a commercial barn so it represents the industry, Sask Pork to deliver the message to a much broader public about what the pork industry is all about and the benefits that it brings to rural Canada.”

Dr. Patience adds this will allow PSC to focus on its primary mandate of providing a Centre of Excellence in applied swine production research.

“By transferring daily operating responsibilities for the P.I.G. to Sask Pork personnel there is a more appropriate link between organization mandate and the activities the organizations are involved with,” he says.

Sask Pork Creates New Position

To accommodate the change, Sask Pork has appointed a full-time Education Coordinator. In her new role, Jessica Podhordeski will continue to handle the day to day operations of the Pork Interpretive Gallery, booking and arranging tours of the facility. However, her mandate will be expanded to include a greater level of community outreach.

“We want to enhance the agriculture education sector of Sask Pork,” Podhordeski explains.

Under the Prairie Swine Centre, the Pork Interpretive Gallery was primarily a touring facility for class groups, general public, industry members, producers. Now that it's being managed under Sask Pork, she says they still want to use it as a facility for that purpose, but also broaden the spectrum to use it as part of the agri-ed program and offer in-class presentations or presentations to different groups where we can go to them.

“We're going to be at Agribition in November and probably at some different teachers’ conferences just making ourselves known to them,” she says.

As Ketilson points out, the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board thought it was quite important that the organization take the mandate of the gallery and combine it with our public information and our ag education program.

Possberg stresses, “We really believe that if the general public took the time to understand what it is that we, as an industry, do to protect the environment, to create a safe and healthy workplace for people that work in the industry, create a healthy and good environment for the animals that we raise and treat them in a welfare friendly environment...once people know what it is that we do, invariably we get a positive response.”

Career Opportunities to be Another Major Consideration

In addition to cultivating a greater public understanding and acceptance of modern swine production, it is hoped the activities both in the gallery and in the community will convince young people to consider a career in the industry. To that end a new careers in animal agriculture display is currently being developed and is expected to be in place early next month.

“We did have a previous display talking about different positions within the barn and we've expanded that to 10 different positions available within the pork industry, both in the barn as well as outside the barn,” Podhordeski explains.

To learn more about the Pork Interpretive Gallery and modern hog production, Podhordeski invites people to call her directly at 306 353-3508 or at 1 866-744-8687 to book a tour.

For Farmscape.Ca, I'm Bruce Cochrane.

5m Editor