Swine Unit faces challenges moving forward with construction

Erin Beck

While the major theme of construction is taking place at SDSU, plans for the Swine Unit are still in progress for breaking ground. Setbacks and changes in design elements have led to a delay in construction on the new facility.

With the last update to the current Swine Unit made in 1991, Professor and Extension Swine Specialist Bob Thaler is helping to organize the plans for bringing the unit up to date and fitting it with the technology that is used by the industry today.

“We see huge potential for the growth of the swine industry in South Dakota,” Thaler said.

The plans include three complexes, two of which will be on the current site at the Swine Unit. The first complex will be a sow teaching intensive facility, housing 150 sows. The second complex will act as a weaned-to-finish barn with four rooms housing 300 pigs each. Two rooms will be used for nutritional studies, while the other two will look at improving pig efficiency from the standpoint of growth and carbon footprint reduction.

The third complex will be a 1,200 weaned-to-finish barn. According to Thaler, it will look like commercial finishing barns that are seen today in the industry, but adapted for research.

Thaler discussed recent changes to the plans. The original design of the breeding and gestation component has been altered. While gestation crates were formerly designed to house several pigs in one pen, plans were modified to include both individual and large gestation crates. According to Thaler, this will demonstrate that both systems work, with management becoming a more important factor in this situation.

What sets this unit apart in its design plans and goals for the future is its dedication to educating not just students but the general public as well.

Glass hallways and live video feeds from a pig’s conception to when it leaves for market are major steps that the Swine Unit will be taking to educate the public on what is happening in the swine industry today.

“We want people to see what swine production is like and that it’s a benefit for the community,” Thaler said.

A factor that planners for the Swine Unit weren’t counting on was the summer drought of 2012.

“We’re still moving ahead, but the drought has really hurt us,” Thaler said.

With the hard-hitting effects of the drought, feed prices have risen dramatically, leaving lots of producers with slim wallets. This has limited the industry’s ability to donate to the project.

According to Thaler, many people were intending to contribute to the project. With the arrival of the drought on stage, many plans fell through the cracks as people have lost money, finding it a difficult time to contribute.

With progress hinging on meeting fundraising goals of approximately $7 million, Thaler sees a lot of snow and rainfall in the coming year as a necessity. With better crop yields, those planning to contribute will find it easier to donate to the project.

“We’ve got over a million dollars committed to it, which is good,” Thaler said.

First Bank & Trust and the South Dakota Pork Producers Council both stand as key donors in the project to date. Both have contributed approximately $250,000 apiece and will be recognized as founding members of the SDSU Swine Education Advisory Council.

“They took the lead role to make lead amounts,” said Mike Barber, development director at the SDSU Foundation. “They’ve made substantial commitments, as well as other donations from generous donors.”

Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, sees the plans for expanding and updating the Swine Unit as essential to maintaining and growing the swine industry in the region.

“It’s very valuable in that we need to frame and educate our next generation of the workforce and pork producers of the state as well as provide a research center for the industry in South Dakota for researchers at SDSU to do research in facilities that are comparable to facilities used out in the industry,” Muller said.

Kevin Tetzlaff, president of First Bank & Trust in Brookings, considers the future facility to be an important component for further education and research at SDSU.

“Research is the key to unlocking new technological advances,” Tetzlaff said. “With this state-of-the-art modern facility, we are confident of continued advancements in the swine industry.”

With the swine industry as one of the largest consumers of the state’s soybean and corn industries, Tetzlaff sees the investment in the new facility as one that will pay multiple dividends for the state.

“Serving the agriculture industry is very important to us,” Tetzlaff said. “And we believe that, by investing in this facility, the entire ag industry will benefit.”