By Geoff Geddes
For the pork sector in Canada, research is like oxygen: if you don’t see its value, try living without it.
In an industry where margins are thin and profit is never assured, the one constant is the need for cutting-edge research to aid producers. Against that backdrop, Swine Innovation Porc (SIP) has been managing pork projects since 2010 and is set to continue that effort with its Cluster 4 studies over the next five years. The Swine Cluster is a collaborative research program managed by SIP, in partnership with the Canadian pork industry and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).
During the last 12 years, SIP has overseen research investments totaling $51 million over 50 projects and counting. All told, their projects demonstrate the importance of coordination and management to leverage research dollars and make the most of producer funding.
“SIP brings industry and government partners together to advance research that’s aligned on key priorities,” said Daniel Ramage, who assumed the position of general manager, in August 2022. “These are large-scale projects with significant impacts. Our work ensures this research is developed and managed for the benefit of the industry and to maximize the impact of investments.”
To highlight that impact, SIP recently produced a report demonstrating the positive effects of its cluster research on the pork sector in Canada and the economy at large.
“Our report showed that the $30 million we invested in Cluster 1 and 2 led to a three-and-a-half per cent productivity increase in the sector,” said Ramage. “We are now completing Cluster 3 and are working towards launching Cluster 4 in spring 2023, so we can look forward to keeping up this momentum in the years ahead.”
Current examples of Cluster projects help illustrate the breadth and depth of SIP-funded research and the tangible benefits flowing from those studies, from animal health and welfare, to nutrition, new technologies, sustainability improvements and more.
Animal welfare: Transport distance impacts
Animal transportation is a hot-button issue in livestock production. A project by Jennifer Brown, a research scientist with Prairie Swine Centre, assessed the response of weaner pigs under Canadian commercial transport conditions and found that weaners subjected to long-distance transportation lost more of their body weight, experienced more dehydration and spent more time feeding, drinking and sitting after the journey than weaners transported short distances. However, weaners transported shorter distances had more muscle injuries and higher indicators of physiological stress.
Result of this study have the potential to impact the timing of weaning and transportation events at the farm level, along with trailer design, which could include climate control mechanisms. More work needs to be done to refine this understanding, but the results are an important part of better addressing animal welfare concerns.
Animal health: Truck washing
As porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) and other diseases have sparked a greater interest in biosecurity, a prime target for SIP research has been the trucking sector, where the risk of disease transfer is ever-present. To address this challenge, a comprehensive study was undertaken by Terry Fonstad, who is the associate dean for research and partnerships for the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
One of the study’s key findings was that, while dry heating of pathogens for 15 minutes at 70 degrees-Celsius could inactivate most of them, greater intensity was needed to address PED. As a result, researchers now recommend heating trucks to 75 degrees-Celsius for 20 minutes in every section of the trailer.
At a time when disease threats are being closely monitored by the Canadian industry and global trading partners, this project will mean fewer losses for producers and greater welfare for their animals – truly a win-win.
Nutrition: Preventing diarrhea
Can pigs fed a less-expensive, low-complexity nursery diet stay healthy and grow well? Vahab Farzan, a research scientist with the University of Guelph, has found that pigs fed low-complexity diets for five weeks post-weaning experienced diarrhea more frequently.
While low-complexity diets are cheaper, this research has shown they may cause problems, but the underlying factor that warrants further investigation on-farm is whether pathogens like Streptococcus suis or E. coil could factor into the diarrhea equation.
As diarrhea may be symptomatic of various diseases of note – potentially creating problems for growth performance or even trade, farther along – understanding what causes it has received a lot of interest.
Quality: Classifying Canadian pork
New ways to assess pork quality are being closely considered in the highly competitive global pork marketplace, to build on Canada’s reputation and leadership in exports.
Manuel Juarez, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Lacombe Research and Development Centre, has been tasked with creating and commercially testing the viability of an updated pork quality classification system. This project is investigating cost estimates of different technologies and the development of new tools and approaches, in addition to the modification of existing technologies to support the development of quality classifications.
As these projects underline, SIP’s partnerships with the pork sector and stakeholders in government and academia enable innovation that unlocks progress around core priorities like production efficiency and animal health and welfare, along with food safety, product quality and environmental sustainability.
“Canada is a leader in pork research, thanks to the investments that have been made jointly by our collaborators over the years,” said Ramage. “Research has never been more important to the pork sector than it is today, as the industry responds to changing consumer and regulatory demands and navigates emerging issues.”
Just as producers must adapt to a fresh industry landscape, so too must organizations like SIP, to remain relevant and effective when needed most. Today, the funding appetite for research is shifting significantly. Government funding ratios for Cluster research have become less generous than they were when the program was first started, and the emphasis on sustainability has grown enormously.
“Looking forward, this means industry must play an even greater role in advancing its research interests, and it will take even stronger value chain collaboration to drive progress through research,” said Ramage. “This is a key role that SIP plays by bringing partners together and mobilizing resources around shared priorities.”
The recent creation of the Canadian Pork Promotion and Research Agency (PPRA) is seen as a prime example of value chain alignment to build new opportunities for advancing research that benefits business. It was created to support the development and implementation of the promotion and research necessary to increase the demand for pork.
“By leveraging these types of partnerships and coordinating to maximize impact, we can position the value chain to make the most of innovation,” said Ramage. “For SIP, this means forging research that builds on Canada’s competitiveness and brand as a global pork leader over the long term.”