Time to demystify swine production
By Doug Rich
Stop someone on Main Street in your hometown and ask what a typical farm looks like, and more than likely the description will include a Farmall tractor and a two-bottom plow. The person's description of agriculture today probably will not include the advanced technology that is common on most farms in this country.
Nowhere is this disconnect between perception and reality more evident than in pork production. The public has been bombarded with a great deal of misinformation about modern pork production. The Swine Education and Research Facility project at South Dakota State University (SDSU) hopes to change that and begin a new era for the swine industry.
This project will replace the old Red Barn with modern production facilities that include a public viewing area.
"It is time to demystify the swine industry not only for consumers but for policymakers who don't understand modern pork production," Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU, said. "There is a great deal of misinformation about it and we thought if we could find a way to keep bio-security measures in place, public viewing would be an important aspect of the plan.
"Dunn said the project has been divided into three construction phases. The first phase will be a sow facility and boar handling facility with a modern teaching room and new surgical units. The second phase will be a wean-to-finish barn, a research facility that will take pigs from their sow unit and finish them. The third phase will be a facility for taking successful research projects up to industry scale. This will make it possible for them to find out if what they see in a research setting with small numbers of animals will work in a full-scale commercial unit. The sow facility as well as the wean-to-finish barn will have public viewing areas.
Dunn said so far organizers have raised about $1.3 million of the $6.6 million they need to complete this project.
"We want to be able to bring people in to the facility without the shower-in, shower-out requirement that really has become a roadblock," Dunn said. "We want to be able to showcase modern pork production to people like policymakers at the township level as they struggle with permitting facilities and state legislators as they think about issues in a more macro-scale."
Mike Barber, development director for the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU, said the old Red Barn was built in the 1950s. The newest building at the current swine unit was built in 1991.
"It is time to provide students with the facility they need," Barber said. "We feel we are in a position of leadership to educate others about the swine industry."
Barber said the Swine Education and Research Facility will provide resources to enhance undergraduate animal science, pre-veterinary science and ag engineering; expanded opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research projects; and accessible facilities for Extension and public outreach efforts to educate interested stakeholders about swine production.
Jeff Clapper, Ph.D., professor of reproductive physiology at SDSU, is looking forward to the research that he and his colleagues will be able to do once this new complex is completed.
"One of the things we can't do right now, because we don't have the space, is intensive reproduction research," Clapper said. "I don't use a lot of animals but I sample them very intensely. For example, I might be taking blood samples every 20 minutes every six to seven hours. This new swine unit has a surgery built into it so that we could implant the catheters and space to house those animals after the implantation of the catheters and collect samples. Plus we could expose them to boars in order to study attainment of puberty.
"It also will allow us to do a lot nutritional research because of the others phases of the complex includes a 1,200 head wean-to-finish barn," Clapper said. "That unit will be broken in four rooms that hold 300 head each."
Clapper said they would be able to look at issues facing the swine industry like the use of gestation crates and energy efficiency. SDSU researchers will have the ability to examine production while the animals are in gestation crates or while they are in loose housing.
"There are some ideas out there about making the wean-to-finish barn a ‘green' barn," Clapper said. "If we could maintain a constant temperature in that room throughout the production period, we could greatly increase our efficiency. This is still on the drawing board but it is something that needs to be examined."
Dunn said he believes the future is very bright for SDSU and the swine industry. Last year the SDSU School of Agriculture had 2,330 undergraduate students and 300 graduate students, which is about a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Nearly 800 students from a variety of disciplines at SDSU will use the new swine unit when it is completed.
The swine industry is very important to South Dakota and the surrounding region. According to the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, the state ranks second nationally in pigs per sow, ninth in number of pigs born in the state and eleventh in pork production. There are 7, 918 jobs related to the pork industry in South Dakota. The swine industry in South Dakota has a $2.1 billion overall economic impact to the state's economy and contributes $17.4 million total tax revenue.
The swine industry in the state is the largest consumer of corn and soybean meal. South Dakota hogs consume 41 million bushels of corn annually and 275,000 tons of soybean meal.
"I came back to SDSU with the pledge to rebuild the teaching and research facilities for our animal science program," Dunn said. "It is beyond time to do it and to do it right."
Dunn said the new swine unit at SDSU will fill a niche that other land-grant universities will not be able to fill. Many land-grant universities have trouble building new livestock facilities close to campus because they are located in the middle of suburbia.
Students trained in this new swine facility will enter what Dunn believes will be the golden age of agriculture. An age made golden by agricultural technology.
Editor's note: If you would like to know more about this project contact Mike Barber at the SDSU Foundation by calling him at 605-321-6468.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at email@example.com.