By Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame Staff
When many people think about ‘Hall of Fame’ legends, their minds turn quickly to sports heroes.
Wayne Gretzky and Lanny McDonald may or may not have ever set foot in a hog barn, but two legendary Alberta pork producers, George Visser and David Price, certainly have.
And while Wayne and Lanny may be quicker on skates or have softer hands with the puck, those skills are not particularly transferrable to hog production. In fact, Visser and Price could probably put on quite an impressive performance wearing work boots, with rattle paddles in-hand, but who is keeping stats?
After years of service to the Canadian pork industry, Visser and Price are being formally congratulated for their greatness, as they are two of three inductees into the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2021, with the third being Walter Paszkowski, a pioneer in the canola sector and a former provincial politician.
As long-time representatives of innovation and excellence, Visser and Price can now take their seat alongside the many mavericks and mavens to grace Alberta agriculture. The high honour is not only well-deserved but worth recognizing for upcoming generations of hog farmers who can certainly be shown a thing or two by these cagey veterans.
George Visser goes whole-hog
In the 1970s, intensive agriculture in Alberta was only beginning. Visser could see that specializing in certain commodities would be important. He led the way by setting up a 130-sow farrow-to-finish operation and a 5,000-hen laying operation on his farm. Others followed suit, and during the 1980s, the Neerlandia region – about 150 kilometres northwest of Edmonton – became one of the most concentrated hog production areas in the province.
Visser’s foresight, hard work and cooperation with the team around him led to the development of Twin Peaks Feeders Inc. and BarrWest Pork Ltd.: two large investor-led hog production units. The development of these entities led the way for Alberta hog farming to shift to investor-led production – a trend that was already occurring in Manitoba and in other parts of the world.
“George is a dynamic leader. He has inspired and led in his local community, his county and in the entire province of Alberta,” said Walter Preugschas, who nominated Visser for the recognition. Preugschas and Visser co-founded Twin Peaks Feeders Inc., and both still serve on the board of BarrWest Pork Ltd. “George has been a man of vision, an innovator and a leader throughout his career. He is a man of conviction who understands the value of collaboration and brings out the best in those who surround him.”
Visser’s foray into agriculture policy started when he joined the Alberta Egg Marketing Board and played a key leadership role in its initial development. Soon after, he was appointed to the Alberta Agriculture Products Marketing Council – the body that oversees and regulates the various agriculture marketing boards and commissions in the province. Equipped with his experience in agriculture and his negotiating skills, he served as a valuable liaison between Marketing Council and the many commodity boards the council oversees, including Alberta Pork.
“George brought fair and impartial leadership skills that helped the provincial agriculture industry grow,” said Ed Schultz, former General Manager, Alberta Pork. “Although we did not always agree, George understood that his job was to challenge us to find the right path forward. In that regard, he succeeded.”
In 1986, Visser was elected as a councillor for the County of Barrhead. His leadership abilities were soon noted, as he was selected as the county’s Reeve and remained in that position for a full decade. He not only led the county in its various operational functions, but he realized the importance of value-added agriculture and of regional economic development. He represented his office with honesty, dignity and integrity.
Visser was also influential within the Rural Municipalities of Alberta – an independent association comprising the province’s 69 counties and municipal districts. Here, he advocated for rural Alberta on numerous issues and provided suggestions in the formation of the Municipal Assistance Grant: a provincial program largely formed to assist assessment-challenged municipalities.
David Price integrates from the bottom-up
As a founder, past president and company director of the Sunterra Group of Companies, David Price’s leadership was integral to building a fully integrated family-run food company with top-quality pork and a true farm-to-fork business model.
“I believe that no significant accomplishments are made alone,” said Price. “With the wonderful support of my family, I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with and learn from some tremendous people of all ages and walks of life.”
The Sunterra Group of Companies now includes pig production in Canada and the U.S., crop and greenhouse production, two meat processing plants and nine retail markets in Alberta. All facets of the business continue to expand. Price’s ability to see potential future trends and opportunities, but not compromise on quality or service, continues to be a critical pillar of the company’s success.
As a young man in 1968, Price spent a year in England working with Pig Improvement Company (PIC), a new pig breeding concept. Upon returning to Alberta, he, his parents and some very close friends decided to launch Pig Improvement Canada.
They imported ‘modern’ swine genetics from England in the 1970s, built a national swine breeding company, and pivoted to an innovative swine production company with exceptional health and quality.
Price led his team in their continued quest to expand into marketing areas previously not considered by others. They added a PhD in genetics and another PhD in meat science to their group – believed to be the first by a North American meat processor – to assist in creating a focus on production of ‘premium quality pork.’
Their combined vision paid off. Continual advances in genetic research, cross-breeding techniques, swine nutrition, meat science analysis and management produced more piglets per sow per year, at less cost. Over time, it resulted in higher-quality pork for consumers, with more protein and less fat.
“Through intelligent innovation, dedication and long-range vision, David brought Canadian swine genetics and quality pork processing to a globally superior level,” said Schultz. “We can thank him for the outstanding contributions he has made to create the exceptional products we enjoy at home and market globally today.”
David Price’s father, Stan Price, was inducted to the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2002 for his foundational work in the industry.