Sale of PSC Elstow Research Farm Applauded

CANADA - Western Canadian pork producers are welcoming the reopening the PSC Elstow Research Farm under new ownership as very good news for the Canadian pork industry.
calendar icon 7 September 2009
clock icon 8 minute read

The PSC Elstow Research Farm was built in 2000 by the Saskatoon based Prairie Swine Centre under the premise that having a modern large capacity swine barn would provide a better understanding of the function of the larger operations in the industry. However economic challenges facing the Canadian pork industry forced its closure last fall.

The facility consists of a 600 sow farrow to finish research facility, a small off site unit capable of accommodating about two weeks worth of production, a feed mill and land associated with the site.

"This particular facility was originally designed to be financed similar to a commercial barn in that there was a significant mortgage on it," says Prairie Swine Centre president and CEO Lee Whittington.

The ongoing decline in hog prices meant the facility was no longer able to meet all of its requirements. To avoid getting into a position where it could no longer meet its financial obligations, in May 2008 the decision was made to de-populate the barn. By last fall the facility had been emptied, cleaned down and mothballed.

United Kingdom JSR Genetics Assumes Ownership

Ownership of the farm was taken over last week by United Kingdom based JSR Genetics and the first plane-load of pigs arrived Tuesday (1 September).

"We are delighted to have completed the purchase of a facility that meets our needs and establishes an on-going link to the Prairie Swine Centre's applied research program," JSR Genetics chairman Tim Rymer stated in a September 1st news release.

"We have identified several areas of common interest in research and look forward to participating in and contributing to the recognized research leadership established at Prairie Swine Centre."

Mr Whittington notes several alternate business plans were explored that would have seen the barn reopen as a research facility but, in the end, it appeared the best option for the Prairie Swine Centre was to sell the operation and refocus on its newly renovated core 300 sow farrow to finish operation at Floral, Saskatchewan.

Prairie Pork Producers Applaud Reopening

"It's very good news to see that facility back in operation," says Saskatchewan Pork Development Board producers services manager Harvey Wagner.

Having it back in operation is a real boost to the local area around Elstow for the ability to sell grain and to have people working at the barn. It's also a really good psychological boost for the industry to know that other outside companies see that there is some future in the pork industry in Saskatchewan and Canada and North America.

Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson agrees this is good news that this company has taken over this research facility and is going to use it and keep it in operation.

"Here's a large company that operates across the world and they look at western Canada as a place to do business. There will be hog production here for a long time and they want to be part of the action in terms of participating in a viable industry."

Mr Dickson notes out this also means the generics that are available in other parts of the world will available here in North America as well. He's confident that, by conducting business in North America, JSR will be more sensitive to conditions producers are faced with in North America and especially in Canada and will be better positioned to match the type of genetics to the different production systems we have here.

"This is quite important because our climate here is different. We rely very heavily on environmentally controlled housing units in western Canada and a big chunk of our industry is essentially fed on small grains such as wheat and barley with some corn where as in other parts of the world they are much more reliant on corn."

Saskatchewan Pork Production Advantages Reaffirmed

Mr Wagner observes, "This facility really shows that the prairies, in particular Saskatchewan, is a really good place to house high quality genetics because of our biosecurity. Large distance between barns makes it a really good repository for the world genetic stock. We see that as an excellent vote of confidence for the Canadian pork industry because these animals will be available for movement all over the world and what better place to have them than in Canada for that purpose."

Mr Wagner points out Saskatchewan has a number of international swine genetics companies scattered across the province already.

"They're really the repository of the best swine genetics the world has to offer and to have another major international company located here kind of cements the rural view of what Saskatchewan has to offer. It has a great climate for raising hogs, it's got distance to keep the hogs free of disease. Then, of course, it means that if the company needs to sell hogs to other countries in the world they have a really good opportunity to do it from Canada, probably more so than say Great Britain or Holland or Denmark or maybe even some parts of the US because of the health status and the few restrictions that we have for movement to Asia and to other parts of the world."

Farm to Become Nucleus Genetic Operation

Mr Whittington says the farm will become a nucleus unit which will allow JSR to service not only the North American market but primarily South American and some European markets out of this high health area of the world in Saskatchewan. Then, superimposed on that, will be opportunities to do collaborative research.

"The research that they're very interested in right now has to do a lot with behaviour in pigs. Secondly we think there's a lot of opportunities in the area of engineering. We're doing a lot of work in utility costs that they are very interested in because they operate in many different countries, most of them cold climate countries like Canada. They think that's something they can carry forward to their customer base and value add."

Mr Whittington observes, although JSR's primary research focus has been in the area of reproduction, the company sponsors research at third party locations, including research being sponsored in Canada.

"We think this is going to be a really good fit to be able to continue to do some of the large head numbers or large number of pigs that are required on some studies that can be conducted out at that site as it was originally designed for."

Future of Pork Interpretive Gallery to be Determined

The agreement will also allow the pork industry to continue to access the Pork Interpretive Gallery, the education facility located in the attic space of the barn.

"JSR Genetics is actually very enthusiastic about the existence of the galley within the facility," says Mr Whittington. "Although plans with the local industry haven't been finalized yet, it is their desire to open it up and make it available to the industry for international groups and even school groups etcetera, similar to the role that it played previously."

Mr Wagner acknowledges the industry's role in the operation of the Pork Interpretive Gallery has yet to be determined. The previous commitment was based on ownership of the barn being with the Prairie Swine Centre and new owners may have a different view in regards to biosecurity.

"We'll certainly be talking to them once they get operational and see if we can occasionally access that facility or if there is any role for us to play but it's certainly a great asset. We'd love to see that asset be utilized. It sure highlights how pigs are raised, lets people see how pigs are raised but it all has to happen in conjunction with the owners of the barn and they're biosecurity needs. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize a high herd by poor biosecurity practices."

JSR Investment Viewed as Confidence Builder

Mr Whittington concludes, "One of the important messages for the pork industry is the confidence that JSR as a new investor in the Canadian industry has put forward with this investment. They're looking at Canada as being a huge opportunity in terms of producing pigs profitably in the long term. They have great confidence that the Canadian industry is the place to invest and I think we should take note of that. When an international group like this that could have gone anywhere, they could have gone to Ukraine, Poland, South America, they chose Canada. I think we in the industry should take that as a real compliment and recognize that we have lots of opportunity here. Although it's very hard to see that opportunity in the current financial state that the industry is in, others from outside the industry see it and we should grasp onto that and drive forward."

"We're very happy to see JSR come to Saskatchewan and to western Canada," says Mr Wagner. "I'm sure they're going to be a great asset to the pork industry here as we move forward in this very difficult time and a time of transition."

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