Walking outside into the bright summer sun after the annual awards dinner and silent auction may have been the biggest surprise of all at the 40th-annual Alberta Pork Congress in Red Deer.
For a variety of reasons – mainly weather related – the show’s board of directors decided to move the dates this year to mid-June from mid-March, easing travel strain for exhibitors and producers.
For those who have been regular attendees at the Wednesday-evening banquet, it certainly was a pleasant surprise to walk out of a darkened dining room and see the evening sun still shining brightly and handful of people standing outside, enjoying a friendly chat. They were more accustomed to the fractious weather in March, often bringing howling winds, blinding snow and a freeze-thaw cycle that turned good highways into icy hazards.
Some exhibitors found the change in dates made things a bit hectic, given that they had attended World Pork Expo the week before and then had to turn around right afterward and head for Ontario Pork Congress, said board member Laurie Brandly, publisher of Prairie Hog Country. Brandly heard from one equipment supplier who felt March was better timing for him because most purchasing decisions have been made by June and so the funds for that year have already been allocated.
While there are advantages to holding the show in March, the board felt that moving to June provided safer and easier travel and also removed conflicts with the Easter holiday.
Alberta Pork Congress has established a strong footing in Red Deer, drawing producers from across the western provinces and the northwestern states to investigate new products and services, take in some educational seminars and have an old-fashioned chin wag with fellow producers, suppliers and marketers.
“I think it’s a great success. Our emphasis from Day One has been our 40th anniversary,” said feed supplier Tracy Hum, president of the 2014 board.
“Last year, we had the snow storm in March. It was right around Easter, so a lot of colonies couldn’t come because of that. We wanted to change it around.”
Pork Congress had originally been held in June, but there were conflicts with farmers who were busy seeding and spraying crops at that time of year, said Hum.
“So, they moved it to March. Most of the farmers now are . . . more specialized, so let’s take a chance a move it to June.”
It seems to have worked, said Hum.
This year’s show sold out earlier than it had in the past, and then the overflow was sold out as well.
“The traffic, I think, it’s phenomenal this year. If I was a guessing man, I’d think we’d be up 20, 30 per cent,” he said.
So what’s a beef guy like Hum doing in a pork show like this? Hum said he was asked to join the board two years ago, when he was still working with Hi Pro Feeds. He changed jobs shortly after that and is now working for Furst-McNess Company.
Hum said 2013 president Doug Richards had asked him to consider running for the top spot, although he had been on the board for only two years. There were others on the board who were even newer to the organization, he said.
“I was an older face, so I got elected. It’s good. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Hum said he has been spending much of his time in the air since taking his new job and was not able to devote as much time to helping put the show together as he would have liked, but feels proud of the work the board of directors has done and the results of their decision to go back to a June show.
Show managers Kate Cheney and Lisa Doyle offered exhibitors some coaching to help them draw more people into their booths, said Hum.
One company that set up a small and rather disorganized booth last year had doubled the size their display and cleaned up their background for this year’s show, with more traffic showing up for them as a result, he said.
“You always need to find something to draw people into your booth. You’re always looking for something new.”
Hum said some exhibitors put up draws for prizes, typically tool sets and similar gifts. This year, he offered a Keurig coffee maker and had people lining up to get their names into his draw box.
Along with the coaching, Pork Congress offers awards to the exhibitors who go outside of the box to create a unique experience for people visiting their booths. The drive to be different has resulted in some truly creative efforts from exhibitors, from Dippin’ Dots ice cream to a professional shoe shine stand.
The 2014 grand prize went to the team at Peak Swine, who wrapped their display around a Western theme, complete with cowboy décor, hot coffee, gingham shirts, cowboy hats and downright friendly service.
Following them up were Rapid Strides and Friesen Livestock.
Pork Congress is also a platform for recognizing producers who put extra effort into raising and shipping the best possible animals, with the Olymel plant at Red Deer in conjunction with Alberta Pork Congress offering a total of $3,000 in prize money for its annual Reach for the Top Awards.
Don Brookbank, procurement manager for the plant, explained that awards are based on points achieved throughout the year, broken down into four areas: Core weight, core lean, food safety and high health. The Grand Champion award is given to the producer who scores highest overall from 160 production sites that ship to Red Deer, said Brookbank.
Named winners of Reach for the Top in 2014  and awards amounts were: Mialta Colony – Grand Champion, $1,000; Suncrest Colony – High Health, $500
–   Hughenden Colony #1 – Food Safety, $500; Scherer Livestock – Core Lean, $500
and   VFA Pork – Core Weight, $500
The Wednesday evening banquet is capped off with annual awards recognizing producers and industry partners in three categories: Farm Team, Industry Ambassador and Lifetime Achievement. Devin Moffat from Rapid Strides, awards chair of Pork Congress for 2014, presented the awards.
Moffat opened the presentations by asking for more nominations for 2015 and beyond.
“We all have people in this industry that deserve recognition. I don’t think we pat ourselves on the back enough. We’ve been through some good times, some bad times, and I think it’s a great opportunity to recognize producers, industry people and give the accolades that are due,” said Moffat.
The team at the Sunhaven Farms group, with 75 employees, a variety of contractors and about 12,000 sows, was recognized in the Farm Team category. Joining the ceremonies to accept the award were Daryl Possberg, Bryan Perkins, Tom Kennelly, Josh Haitel, Laurie Fries and Dave Thomas.
In a video presentation created for the awards ceremony, Possberg said joining the company and getting an opportunity to work with people like Bryan Perkins has been “fantastic.”
Possberg said priorities for Sunhaven Farms are to ensure that employees know what is expected and that they have the tools to meet those expectations.
Leaders must be supportive and active members of the team, he said.
“We have an annual meeting every year. We have an organizational meeting where we get together and everybody has a chance to socialize, a chance to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Taking the stand afterward, Possberg thanked fellow members of the team for their contributions, saying its “great to be recognized.”
The Red Deer man chosen for the 2014 Industry Ambassador award has become a familiar face across the country and beyond in his efforts to battle with PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea).
The same dedication to the task at hand that earned him the award also made Red Deer-based swine veterinarian Egan Brockhoff unable to attend the ceremonies to receive his award.
In his video, Brockhoff describes the decisions that brought him to the industry, from growing up south of Camrose on a mixed farm that included a farrow-to-finish hog barn.
It was during his first summer job while he was still a student that Brockhoff connected with veterinarian Chris Byra, who was working with both dairy and hog producers.
Brockhoff is now a staunch ally in Byra’s efforts to preserve and improve the Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network, created to help swine veterinarians detect disease trends and manage outbreaks.
Now president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Brockhoff comments during his video about the impact of living in a society where fewer than two per cent of the people live outside of urban areas and only a handful of those few are involved in farming.
He feels it’s important for producers and other people inside the pork industry to get their message out, including taking an active role in committees and boards.
“Society is losing touch with our agricultural roots. We need to get our voice out. We need to be talking to society. We need to be talking to consumers. We need to be talking to government. We need to be talking to everyone,” said Brockhoff, who gives presentations all over the world on swine production and swine health.
Western Canada has an ideal environment to be a major pork producer for the world, including an abundance of clean water and low levels of pollution, said Brockhoff.
“You know, I get up every day, and I’m hungry. I wake up hungry to serve this industry. I love working with families. I love working with farm families. I love working with our community. That’s not going to change. I’m doing exactly what I thought I was going to be doing when I finished veterinary school.”
Knowing in advance that he would be unable to attend the banquet, Brockhoff prepared an acceptance speech, offering his gratitude for the rewards of doing the work he loves.
Moffat went on to play the video introducing Bernie Peet, winner of the Lifetime Achievement award.
Peet was eligible for early retirement from his work in the United Kingdom’s swine industry and research community when he and his wife, Kathy, decided to move to Canada and try on something a little different.
Peet says in his video that he was interested in group housing from the get-go, and was involved in 1985 with setting up an electronic feeding system in the UK that became a model for group housing worldwide.
“Kathy and I came (to Canada) for a holiday in 1979, and it was just after I started the job at the NAC. Alberta Agriculture asked me to do a presentation in Leduc, at the AI centre.”
It was there that he started connecting with Alberta’s industry leaders, followed up with a visit to Pork Congress in 1987.
He started coming to Alberta regularly in the 1990s as part of his consulting business.
“Kathy and I have always had a soft spot for Canada. We decided at the age of 50 that we would make the move,” he said.
“It generally worked.”
Living in Lacombe, Peet became involved with Rocky Mountain Pork and later Danbred while continuing to operate his own business, Pork Chain Consulting.
When Rocky Mountain Pork collapsed, he was offered a job as editor of the Western Hog Journal.
Peet said he had become skilled at writing articles for the industry, but found it “quite daunting” to produce an entire issue, along with the constant pressures to meet deadlines.
“I actually enjoyed it tremendously.”
Already well occupied with the magazine and his consulting business, Peet also took charge of the annual Swine Technology Workshop, based in Red Deer and sponsored by Alberta Pork and the University of Alberta.
Peet handed both of those jobs off earlier this year, remaining active with his consulting work, including travels to pork producing areas throughout the world.
“Kathy and I are passionate about travelling. We just got back from two months in Australia and we have plans to go to many other countries yet, as well as some countries in Europe that we haven’t been to in 25 years,” he said.
Peet said after accepting his trophy that he and Kathy were still in Australia when they learned about the award.
“I want to say some special thanks to my wife, Kathy, because she has done so many things in addition to following her own career. That has allowed me to do a lot of the things that I’ve been able to do.”
Kathy continues to play a key role in developing and delivering a training system that is part of the Pork Chain consulting business, including setting it up in the Chinese version of Microsoft Word, said Peet.
He thanked “everybody” for the support and rewards he has received in the 13 years since he and Kathy moved to Lacombe.
One of the most familiar and highly regarded faces at Pork Congress for many years was that of Bruce Winkler, who died in the fall of 2011 after the rapid onset of a highly aggressive cancer.
To keep Winkler’s memory alive and to provide help for doctors working with similar cancers, Pork Congress created a silent auction that would raise money to fund the Linac MR Machine, which will be able to treat cancer in real time. The machine which was once just a prototype is now a reality with the machine built and ready for testing.
A key component in the auction has been the vast collection of donations offered by both sponsors and producers, from barbecue tools and baskets of edible treats to elaborate quilts and beautifully turned furniture created by the men and women from a many of Alberta’s Hutterite colonies.
This year, the silent auction raised just over $5,300, down from $7,100 last year and just under $13,000 in 2012.
Auction organizer Laurie Brandly says she is grateful to the sponsors for their donations and to the many people who opened their wallets to help support the project.
“Once again I was overwhelmed with the terrific support, from businesses, individuals and Colonies. As I stated at the banquet Bruce would be both a bit embarrassed of the fuss we have created in his honour but at the same time very touched ” stated Brandly.
The Pork Congress board is now hard at work getting ready for 2015, to be held in June on the 10th and 11th at Westerner Park in Red Deer.  •
— By Brenda Kossowan