AP Covers Year's Progress on Ballpark

Jim Suhr of the Associated Press wraps up the progress so far in the construction of the new ball stadium in Marion and unveiling of the Southern Illinois Miners

The Southern Illinoisan has the full story online and the Marion Daily has a nice aerial shot as well.

Airfares Set for Marion to Chicago Flights

Williamson County Airport's second commercial air carrier will begin operations Feb. 1 with flights daily to Chicago's Midway Airport via Quincy, Illinois.

Airline officials announced today flight schedules and fares for Mesa Airlines new Chicago service, according to the Marion Daily Republican.
Flights from Williamson County Airport to Chicago Midway will depart at 6:10 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. daily. Return trips will be 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:05 p.m. and 8:25 p.m.

Tickets from Williamson County Airport to Chicago Midway will be $138 roundtrip if purchased 14 days in advance; $158 roundtrip, if purchased seven days in advance and $198 roundtrip for walk up service.

Tickets can be purchased through Mesa Airlines online at www.flymesa.com, by phone at 1-800-MESA-AIR, or by calling the Williamson County Airport at (618) 993-3353.

Mesa Airlines joins American Express in providing passenger air service at Williamson County Airport.

Williamson County Goes Online

Williamson County officials unveiled the county's new website this morning. It's the county's first one.

The Marion Daily Republican has the story.

The web address is simple, it's www.WilliamsonCountyCourthouse.com.

State Shelves Wireless Plans at Rest Stops

The state's idea to turn the interstate rest areas into Internet wireless hot spots has apparently hit a snag according to the State Journal-Register.
Only one vendor responded to an Illinois Department of Transportation request for proposals to provide free, wireless Internet access (known as WiFi) at the state's rest stops. However, the vendor's offer was rejected because the company missed a mandatory pre-bid meeting conducted by the agency in October.

Consequently, IDOT is back to square one in its efforts to provide WiFi to the motoring public. IDOT hoped to have the service available in 2007, but that timetable is uncertain now.

"Certainly, we knew this was aggressive in that we hoped we could provide the service with no charge to the state and no charge to the consumer," IDOT spokesman Matt Vanover said. "We will re-evaluate our options after the first of the year. We'll see if changes have to be made in order to get a better response."

Maybe, it would help if the state stopped trying to manage all the rest areas under one contract. Try splitting it up. Certainly the state welcome centers would be better off if it region ran their own operations.

Sao Asian Bistro Named in Top 100

It's just a bit old news, but congratulations are still in order to Linda and Te Xieng Sao for San Asian Bistro's placement in the Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA at the All Asia Food Expo in October.

The first round of competition required the restaurant to score well in restaurant reviews which qualified 8,000 to the next level.

The second round required restaurants to meet the criteria of 40 percent of their menu items as Chinese cuisine, a minimum of three years in business and recipient of a minimum of two awards of local dining excellent. That cut the number down to 500.

In the final round additional public ratings on the web and voters by diners of nominated restaurants were combined with a final review by an panel of judges composed of industry leaders and experts.

Sao Asian Bistro made the cut. That's the Top 100 out of 43,139 Chinese restaurants nationwide. Way to go!

Sao's is located on Marion's new Restaurant Row at 2800 17th Street below The Hill.

Tourism Town Meetings Set For Input

The Williamson County Tourism Bureau is calling on area residents and business owners to participate in a series of town meetings beginning next month to help develop a county-wide tourism development plan.

The meetings will start in Marion on Jan. 11, and continue with town meetings in Johnston City, Carterville and Herrin. The tourism bureau will follow-up the four community meetings with a county-wide meeting in March at the Pavilion.

"This is about creating new jobs, improving our quality of life, community development, historic preservation, whatever," explained Jon Musgrave, Williamson County’s new tourism director. "These meetings will be as broad or as focused as the people of this county want them to be."

"You see, there’s not much difference between tourism development and community development. For the first we are putting together a plan to get people to come visit our communities. For the second, we’re trying to get people to stay and settle," said Musgrave.

The Williamson County Tourism Board set a goal in November for a 50 percent increase in tourism expenditures over the next five years.

In 2005, the latest year the statistics are available, tourists spent $84 million in the county. In terms of employment tourists already support 840 jobs in Williamson County according to state estimates.

"There’s a number of new developments taking place in the region and educating everyone about those will be the first part of the community meetings," said Musgrave. "Next we'll break into small groups and brainstorm, both to identify existing problems hampering or preventing tourism development, as well as generate ideas for new proposals."

"We won't be looking at feasibility or costs in the first round. At this point we're just looking for ideas, and that’s something in which everybody can participate," Musgrave added.

While the tourism bureau will be especially working to attract representatives of the area’s tourist service providers – lodging operators, restaurants, tour guides, artists, etc. – to the meetings, Musgrave stressed members of the general public should feel welcome to attend.

"We need that. We need input from everyone," said Musgrave. "The bike trail we might propose for tourism is also the bike trail that would be used and enjoyed by local residents every day."

Meeting dates and locations are as follows:
  • Jan. 11 – Marion, at the Williamson County Pavilion.
  • Jan. 25 – Johnston City at the Johnston City Community Building.
  • Feb. 1 – Carterville at the Carterville Community Center in Cannon Park.
  • Feb. 15 – Herrin at the Herrin Civic Center.
  • March 1 – County-wide meeting in Marion at the Williamson County Pavilion.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the meetings to start at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

Following the first county-wide meeting a committee will be formed to help pull the proposals together for the overall tourism development plan. Once that is finished a second county-wide meeting will be held to unveil the proposals.

Historians Pleased With Trail of Tears Designation

The Southern Illinoisan's Dixie Terry follows up on the recent state designation of the Trail of Tears through Illinois with an interview with Gary Hacker, president of the Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Leaders in Pope, Union and Johnson counties joined together in the past year to write letters of endorsement to legislators encouraging passage of the bill. "This shows what can be done - it gives us an opportunity to preserve our history," Hacker said. "Future generations will be made more aware of the Trail of Tears, following the legislation."

Hacker and others anticipate an increase in tourism in the area, thanks to the recently passed legislation. "The story needs to be told," he added.

Check out the full story at TheSouthern.com website.

Saskatchewan swine industry has room to grow

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Recent developments in Manitoba have highlighted the opportunities in the pork industry here in Saskatchewan.

The Manitoba government has imposed a moratorium on new or expanded swine operations in the province – effectively putting the brakes on industry growth in that province.

The Manitoba hog barn moratorium will remain in place while a committee reviews the impact of the industry on the environment. There is no deadline or anticipated timeline for the committee to complete its work.

Harvey Wagner, the Manager of Producer Services for Sask Pork, said the moratorium may indirectly benefit the industry in Saskatchewan.

Wagner said, in the short term, there may not be much impact – but in the long term, the moratorium could affect investor decisions about where to build new hog barns or expand existing facilities.

“People have to put a lot of money into a facility, so they want to be sure that it is in a place that is going to be welcoming them. Investors have a long memory,” said Wagner.

In Saskatchewan, the government supports continued growth of the industry here. Wagner says Premier Lorne Calvert made that clear in a recent speech to the pork industry.

“The Premier spoke to the pork industry on November 14 and indicated that the province saw value in the pork industry and would like to see it continue to grow,” said Wagner.

Even without an expansion moratorium to the east, Wagner says Saskatchewan has some market advantages. Meanwhile, other market factors are putting the brakes on swine industry expansion to the west.

“One thing that has really been causing a lot of grief in Alberta is labour. They are having trouble staffing facilities, given the heat of that economy right now. They also have fairly high demand for their feed grains, given the feedlots in southern Alberta, so that can be a bit of a challenge,” said Wagner.

Wagner pointed out that Saskatchewan has more feed grain available than anywhere else and has a better labour situation. Saskatchewan also has demand for a by-product from swine production: manure.

“Certainly, compared to Manitoba, we have an awful lot of land that would really benefit from manure application. We don’t have the same run-off issue because our land doesn’t have the same watershed as Manitoba. We can utilize that manure as a high quality fertilizer,” explained Wagner.

For more information, contact:

Harvey Wagner, Manager – Producer Services
Sask Pork
Phone: (306) 244-7452
E-mail: hwagner@saskpork.com

Industry heavyweights make "case" for biodiesel

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A number of recent small announcements could add up to a significant boost for the biodiesel industry in the long term.

Just last month, a couple of heavyweights in the global farm equipment market endorsed using biodiesel in their products.

Case IH was the latest to announce its support. Every piece of equipment will now leave Case IH factories with a biodiesel blend in the tank, and it has approved the use of B20 (20 per cent biodiesel and 80 per cent petroleum-based diesel) in all Case IH engines.

"One hundred per cent factory fill of a biodiesel blend is a logical next step in the process of embracing biodiesel," said Randy Baker, president of Case IH North America.

Field testing is being conducted to determine performance levels of blends of up to 100 per cent biodiesel as part of a program to ensure maximum productivity and engine durability.

Case is just the latest to give biodiesel a boost. Last month, Kubota Tractor Corporation announced it has approved the use of “B5” biodiesel fuels in specified Kubota diesel-powered products.

Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food Crop Development Specialist Skip Munshaw said there are a number of benefits for both equipment manufacturers and producers to using biodiesel.

“Case and Kubota are adding to the growing list of equipment manufacturers that endorse biodiesel. Companies that appear to support ‘green’ technologies are becoming increasingly attractive to consumers and investors. Farmers will likely support this as well, as these endorsements help develop new markets for their crops, which could lead to higher (canola) oil prices,” said Munshaw.

Munshaw said there are some technical benefits, as well.

“By doing factory fills with biodiesel, these companies could reduce the initial break-in wear for engines, so it indirectly helps to extend engine life,” said Munshaw.

“Biodiesel has better lubricity (lubrication qualities) than diesel, which can reduce fuel and maintenance costs. This has been demonstrated both in diesel passenger vehicles and in the recently completed Saskatoon BioBus project.”

“Biodiesel quality is important. Poor quality fuel can cause problems such as deposit formation, filter plugging and poor cold flow properties. Equipment manufacturers only endorse biodiesel that meets American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM D6751) standards.”

Burning biodiesel also can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50 per cent.

Biodiesel has numerous benefits for both producers and the environment. Biodiesel is renewable, non-toxic, clean-burning fuel that can be produced from locally grown feedstocks as widely varied as herring oil in the Maritimes to canola in Saskatchewan. Biodiesel can also be produced from waste products, like waste cooking oil and greases, or co-products or wastes from other industries.

Biodiesel is also behind a recent announcement from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) of its intention to expand its canola crushing capacity at several of its facilities, including the crushing plant in Lloydminster.

ADM said the new crush capacity is to support expansions at its biodiesel facilities in North Dakota and Missouri.

For more information, contact:

Skip Munshaw, Crop Specialist - Biofuels
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306)-933-6020
E-mail: smunshaw@agr.gov.sk.ca
Website: www.agr.gov.sk.ca/docs/programs_services/biodiesel.asp
or: www.saskcanola.com

Looking at seeding forages on marginal land

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

As a landowner looking to seed marginal cropland to forage, it is worthwhile checking to see if your land qualifies for the federal government’s Land Conversion program.

“Producers must realize that this is really an environmental program, and only very marginal soils will qualify,” said Trevor Lennox, Forage Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food in Swift Current.

In Saskatchewan, the Crop Insurance rating system is used to qualify land for this program, with land rated “L” or lower qualifying.

In order to take advantage of the program, producers must apply prior to Jan. 31, 2007. This will definitely be the last year for this program, and the land must be seeded in the spring of 2007 – no fall seedings will be covered in 2007.

Marginal soils are usually lacking in organic matter and have severe limitations for annual cropping. It is for these reasons that some people are choosing to seed native mixtures for forage. Native grasses have adapted to the harsh environmental conditions experienced on the Canadian Prairies and require very few inputs, as they have evolved under conditions of low fertility. Lennox said they are also becoming more affordable.

“In recent years, the seed cost for native species has come down significantly, with a simple mixture of four or five species being put together for approximately $50 per acre. When one considers that the native grasses will be there for several decades, it really is a viable option for producers to consider. When looking to plant native species, it is important to secure seed sources early, as supply of some species are limited,” said Lennox.

When putting together native mixtures, it is important to choose species that complement each other. Native species will behave similarly to tame species in that you will have some initial years of high productivity, followed by lower productivity as the stand comes into balance with nature.

Sending in an application does not guarantee acceptance. Producers must wait to hear back from Greencover Canada as to whether an application has been approved or not. The program pays producers $45 per acre to seed tame species and $100 per acre to seed native species. Upon completion of seeding, landowners will submit their seed bills and payment should follow shortly, with $20 per acre paid for tame grass and $75 per acre for native grass. Upon successful establishment of the forage stand, producers will receive the remaining $25 per acre.

If you feel this program would benefit your operation, further details and program applications are available on the website www.agr.gc.ca/greencover-verdir/applic_e.phtml, or phone 1-866-844-5620.

For more information, contact:

Trevor Lennox, Forage Development Specialist,
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Swift Current
Phone: (306) 778-8294

Fruit growers convene in Saskatoon

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Saskatchewan fruit growers gathering at their upcoming annual conference will be pleased to know that the latest statistics show Canadians are adding more fresh fruit to their diets.

Statistics Canada reports that the average Canadian consumes almost 40 kilograms of fresh fruit a year. That’s over four kilograms a year more than a decade ago.

Charon Blakley, the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association, is not surprised.

“I think there is going to be even more research showing the health benefits of fruit,” said Blakley.

Fruit consumption continues to increase, and so does the number of fruit producers in Saskatchewan. Blakley is expecting attendance at the two-day conference to be over 200.

The conference, January 12 and 13 at the Heritage Inn in Saskatoon, features well over a dozen speakers on a wide variety of topics.

“The agenda is very balanced, whether you are an established grower or just beginning, there is something for you, right from the latest research on fruit production to adding value to the fruit grown” said Blakley.

One of the highlights of the conference will be a preview of a new manual for growing saskatoons. The manual has been in the works for some time, and will not be released until later in the spring, but the authors will share some of the material at the conference.

Another session, entitled “Can An Apple A Day (Alone) Really Keep the Doctor Away?,” will examine a growing body of evidence that suggests that consumption of some types of fruit renders specific health benefits which are key, not only to health, wellness and beauty, but also to disease intervention and prevention.

Canadians must think there is some benefit to an apple a day. Statistics Canada says apples accounted for one-fifth of fresh fruit consumption, with each Canadian consuming 7.6 kilograms of apples each year on average.

Blakley predicts Saskatchewan’s apple crop will continue to expand as well as other crops, such as cherries, haskaps (blue honeysuckle), saskatoons and raspberries.

“More and more acres are being planted to fruit. We have a lot of good varieties that grow in Saskatchewan,” said Blakley.

For more details on the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association and the annual conference, go to www.saskfruit.com.

For more information, contact:

Charon Blakley, Executive Director
Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association
Phone: (306) 743-5333
E-mail: cas.lyn@sasktel.net

Saskatchewan pork producer gives away full bellies

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Thanks to the generosity of a Saskatchewan pork producer and a processor, food banks across the province have a lot more to fill up their Christmas hampers.

For the ninth year in a row, Big Sky Farms, Inc., a Humboldt-based hog production company, teamed with Mitchell’s Gourmet Foods to deliver a 10-tonne donation of fresh pork to Saskatchewan food banks.

Big Sky Farms contributes the pork, which Mitchell’s then processes and wraps for distribution. The Regina and Saskatoon food banks each received 5,000 kilograms (five tonnes) of pork, while food banks in Canora, Wadena and Humboldt each received 500-kilogram donations.

Big Sky Farms CEO Florian Possberg says the Christmas donation tradition is one of his favourite ways to give back to communities that support the pork industry in Saskatchewan.

“Even though this has been a bit of a rocky year for our industry, we are still very fortunate,” said Possberg. “We are happy to know that we’re helping put Christmas dinner on the table for families who need it the most.”

After nearly a decade of receiving this donation, the food banks know they can trust that the truck will pull up right on time every December.

“This donation is something we’ve come to count on over the years,” said Saskatoon Food Bank Executive Director Bob Pringle. “It’s nice to be able to share with all of the food bank’s clients, who don’t always have meat to include in their meals because it is such an expensive item.”

The size of the donation is also a gift to food bank clients, who are sometimes prioritized based on need.

“Usually when we have meat, it goes to families with children first,” said Regina Food Bank CEO Wayne Helquist. “A donation of this size means single adults and couples will also be able to enjoy a nice holiday meal.” Helquist said clients are always sure to let them know the donation is appreciated.

Big Sky has its corporate headquarters in Humboldt, and owns and operates swine production units in the Humboldt, Goodeve, Kelvington, Lintlaw, Preeceville, Sturgis, Ogema, Rama and Porcupine Plain areas.

Big Sky is one of the largest pork producers in Western Canada. Mitchell’s is located in Saskatoon and owned by Maple Leaf Foods of Canada.

For more information, contact:

Florian Possberg, CEO
Big Sky Farms, Inc.
Ph: (306) 682-5041
Bob Pringle, Executive Director
Saskatoon Food Bank
Ph: (306) 664-6565

Motel Revenues Jump in October

Williamson County motel revenue rose sharply in October spiking $231,000 higher to nearly $1.3 million. That represents a 10.1 percent increase from the month before, 9 percent over last year's revenues for October.

This may be a record high for the local lodging industry, and is definitely the best month in the last 24.

Lodging owners collected and paid $64,793.96 for the county's 5 percent bed tax. Three-fifths go to Williamson County Events Commission for the debt and upkeep on the Williamson County Pavilion and two-fifths of the tax fund the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

As October bed taxes are paid to the county in November and received by the tourism bureau in December that brings us halfway through our fiscal year which runs from July 1 to June 30.

So far the bureau's receipts for the first six months of FY07 are up 5.8 percent over the same period last year, or just under $9,000.

Marion's Newest Restaurant Opens

Marion's Restaurant Row adds a new tenant.

Burgers-n-Cream, Marion's newest restaurant apparently open yesterday. It definitely it open today according to the sign and I found a menu on my desk this morning.

As the name implies, their specialties are hamburgers and ice cream, and particularly frozen custard.

The restaurant is besides the new McAlister's Deli in the same building at 2407 17th Street.

The developers hope to make the Marion store a prototype for a new franchise.

MDR Converses With Miners Manager Pinto

Justin Walker takes the reins today in the Marion Daily's weekly conversation with somebody interesting. This week focuses on the Miner's new coach, Mike Pinto.
Justin: How will our location be a factor in drawing players?

Mike: It's a positive one. There are a lot of really good Midwest players and we're within driving distance of how many really good college programs? One of the questions I get asked a lot is "What kind of player are you looking for?" I'll tell you, I'm looking for the best player at a school. Not the No. 8 hitter or a guy who didn't get in the game very much, I'm looking for the guy who is a prospect. Guys who set records at their school. I'm not looking for the average, run-of-the-mill player. I'm looking for a guy who was exceptional at what he did and now let's see if he can move up a level and maintain that.

Justin: What about the local guy with a dream. You've said there will be a local tryout.

Mike: We'll have a tryout in the latter part of April. We'll try to get a location as to not disturb the stadium prior to us getting started, but we'll run a full major league tryout. I'll get some scouts to help me evaluate and we'll have a lot of guys come out. There will be some roster spots available and if a guy is qualified and possesses that kind of talent — maybe he got missed in the draft and every year there are high quality players that were either with the wrong school at the wrong time and got missed. Much of the Frontier League is based on giving guys their first chance.

Check out the rest of the interview in the Marion Daily.

The Bed Tax: Who Pays?

What's a hotel?

Seems like a simple question, doesn't it?

It's not though, particularly when you're talking about the bed tax and who's actually responsible for paying it.

Properly known as the Hotel Occupation Retailer's Tax at the state level, the bed tax is charged against lodging operators as a percentage of the lodging bill. The state levies a 6 percent rate. Counties and municipalities can levy a rate up to 5 percent. Most, if not all, lodging operators tack this tax onto the lodging bill rather than pay it out of pocket.

In Williamson County there's a two percent bed tax that funds the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and a three percent bed tax that pays off the financing of the Williamson County Pavilion.

For motels and hotels there's no question that they are covered and are supposed to pay. The only exception is for guest stays over 30 days.

For bed and breakfast inns it's more tricky. Generally they do pay the tax on the total amount, though if the breakfast is billed separately, they don't have to pay the bed tax on that. However, then they would have to collect the sales tax on the food.

Campgrounds and cabins are the next tricky stage. Campgrounds are exempt, but cabins on a campground are not.

According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, if it's a permanent structure rented as lodging, it's covered. If it's not permanent, such as a camper hauled to a campground and rented to various people over the summer, it's exempt. Likewise, RVs rented out for vacations are not covered.

The last two categories of lodging are usually the most surprising for the operators who long thought they were exempt. Hunt clubs that offer overnight accommodations are covered, even if it's just a bunkhouse and not a private room.

Tax-exempt organizations are also covered even though they are normally exempt from paying or collecting taxes in other situations. That's one of the reasons why SIU's Touch of Nature pays the bed tax on its cabin rental when they do corporate retreats. Even though they are a public university, they are still covered.

Even churches that run campgrounds and retreats are covered under Illinois law. I'm not certain if the three-sided cabins at Camp Ondessonk would be covered, but the motel-like rooms of the St. Noel Conference Center there would be. Likewise the cabins at San Damiano Shrine in Pope County should be paying bed tax.

There are times when the operators of smaller sites or otherwise tax-exempt sites argue that they shouldn't be covered, and that's their right. However the law is the law, and until it's changed they are obligated to pay.

It's also in their best interest to pay. Most of the problems occur in the smaller counties that struggle for every dollar they can get to promote tourism and create jobs. That's in everybody's best interest.

For more on the state bed tax check the Illinois Department of Revenue's website.

Fall and winter cattle raising watering issues

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Cattle producers are being urged to keep an eye on their water resources this winter.

Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food Livestock Development Specialist Bob Klemmer said weather conditions over the course of the spring and summer have impacted the quality of surface water sources.

The cause can be broken down into two main factors: too much water, and not enough. Klemmer said, while both situations can result in poor water quality and reduced cattle productivity, the prognosis for improvement is much better for the former.

“Flooding and run-off has led to increased nutrient loading in dugouts, dams, sloughs and lakes in some parts of Saskatchewan last summer. Combined with our hot summer weather, this situation resulted in rapid and recurrent algae blooms,” said Klemmer.

Treatment during the summer takes care of this growth, but leaves behind the dead organic material, which ends up decaying on the bottom over the winter months as the water becomes anaerobic.

This nutrient loading also encourages the growth of water weeds, which adds to the build-up of organic matter on the bottom. Left unchecked, this scenario leads to brackish/odorous water in mid-winter due to the anaerobic break-down of the accumulated organic matter. If bad enough, cattle may not drink as much, which will result in a reduction of feed intake and lower productivity (lower gains, weight loss, lower milk production). Fortunately, this situation can be remedied by the installation of a properly sized aeration system.

On the other hand, Klemmer said a lack of surface water can impact water quality as well.

“There are parts of Saskatchewan that experienced very little snow and zero run-off, and therefore no recharge to surface watering sites. Adding insult to injury, the hot, dry and windy weather last summer increased the amount of water cattle required, and caused a much higher evaporation rate, which has led to very low surface water reserves in some areas,” said Klemmer.

The resulting issues range from uncertainty of water supply/quality, to bringing old wells with questionable water quality back on-stream. In some cases, this has forced producers to haul water to the cattle. Hauling water is expensive, time consuming and unsustainable; however, because the quality of the water may actually be higher, the cattle may be better off than drinking water from a depleted slough, dugout or dam.

As water evaporates off the surface of these water bodies, minerals dissolved in the water remain, and, over time, may accumulate to levels of significance to cattle productivity and health. Even in a year of normal rainfall, one study demonstrated that mineral concentration in a dugout can double. This should be a “red flag” to those in this situation to make sure they test for water quality, especially when water levels fluctuate.

Klemmer said knowing your water quality is the first step in ensuring your herd remains productive and healthy.

“The main minerals of concern are iron (Fe), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S) in the form of sulphates. While iron levels are a nuisance for household use, and can cause problems inside your water distribution system, it is only when iron becomes excessive that it can affect the amount of water cattle will drink and, thereby, reduce productivity,” explained Klemmer.

Sodium and magnesium are most often of concern when they are associated with high levels of sulphates. High levels of magnesium sulphate have been shown to reduce water intake by cattle. If the water your cattle are fed contains high levels of sulphates, many problems can show up over time.

Cattle on high sulphate water tend to have loose stools, due to its laxative effect. While this, in itself, is not a production problem, it may be an early sign that something is up—so check that water. Concerns with sulphates and productivity and health relate to interference in the absorption of trace minerals from the diet (primarily copper, zinc, and manganese) and, in extreme cases, cattle death due to polioencephalomalacia (thiamine deficiency).

Solutions to these water quality problems range from installing costly water treatment systems, to initiating a special mineral supplementation program, to re-development of your water source over time.

The levels of minerals in surface water can fluctuate widely over time, depending on precipitation, recharge, cattle use and evaporation, and the concerns/solutions can also be long-term, depending on these same environmental factors. Consequently, Klemmer said, a good first step to ensuring your cattle remain healthy and productive is testing the quality of water from all of your water sources.

“Testing and then monitoring quality over time is very important. Solutions to water quality problems, such as aeration, can be simple and inexpensive or costly and complex, such as treatment systems. Resources for determining your needs are available through your local PFRA office. When treatment is not practical and specialized nutritional supplementation is necessary, resources for determining your needs are available through Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food,” said Klemmer.

For more information, contact:

Bob Klemmer, MAgr, PAg
Livestock Development Branch, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
(306) 848-2380

Sometimes uncomfortable topic coming to light

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Change can be an uncomfortable aspect of life and business to address, especially when talking about one’s family livelihood. That’s why Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF) regional offices, along with several community and industry partners, created the new “Power of Change” courses and workshops being piloted across Saskatchewan in 2007.

Don Perrault, an SAF Agri-Business Development Specialist in Prince Albert, has been watching the trend toward change in agriculture and its related industries rise to a fever pitch.

“Rapid change, the likes of which we've seldom seen, is occurring in agriculture right now,” said Perrault. “And that puts producers under a lot of economic distress, from weather-related and global pressures on pricing, to the high cost of fertilizer and fuels. It’s all impacting farmers and adding to financial pressures.”

Perrault helped to develop the new “Power of Change” courses, along with colleague Brenda Stefanson in the North Battleford Regional Office. The hope is that producers will take the course and be able to see the positives in possibly changing their course.

“What we sense is farmers struggling with change,” said Stefanson. “We recognize that change is not easy to deal with, and some people may have negative feelings about it.”

The courses are designed to help participants learn about their own attitudes and beliefs, as well as offering techniques to cope with, take on, and feel good about the process of change. Four pilot sessions are being offered in early 2007 in the North Battleford, Prince Albert, Yorkton and Outlook regions.

The course is divided into three sections: a Power of Change course, developed by the Pacific Institute of Training; a session on Exploring the Opportunities; and One-on-One Consultation with Specialists – your chance to discuss programs, agencies and ideas to help carry the farm into the future.

Perrault said Saskatchewan producers who feel they need to change but aren’t sure how to go about it should take part, particularly those who may be at a crossroads in their farm finances or succession planning.

“We’re asking farmers to express their interest, and we’ll set dates and times from there,” said Stefanson. “The locations are flexible, and we’ll be asking the groups we get where the best place is for them to meet.”

If you would like to participate in one of the pilot “Power of Change” courses, call your SAF regional office at North Battleford (306) 446-7964, Outlook (306) 867-5575, Prince Albert (306) 953-2363 or Yorkton (306) 786-1531 directly to register. Each course location will be limited to a small number of registrants in order to provide one-to-one counselling and business planning services. Interested participants are encouraged to sign up for the course as early as possible. The registration deadline is December 31, 2006. Stefanson advises telephoning to register your interest. The cost to attend the course is $430 per person, and it is a Canadian Agricultural Skills Service (CASS) approved course.

For more information, contact:

Brenda Stefanson, Business Planning Specialist
North Battleford Regional Office
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 446-7479
E-mail: bstefanson@agr.gov.sk.ca

Don Perrault, P.Ag., Agri-Business Development Specialist
Prince Albert Regional Office
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 953-2361
E-mail: dperrault@agr.gov.sk.ca

New oat variety could open new markets

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A new oat variety holds the promise of opening up new markets and opportunities for Saskatchewan producers.

The oat variety, called CDC SO – I (Crop Development Centre Super Oat #1), has a nutritional profile similar to barley.

Brian Rossnagel, an oat and barley breeder at the University of Saskatchewan's Crop Development Centre, led the effort by the CDC Oat Research and Development team, and said its properties open up a wide range of new opportunities.

“The uniqueness of this particular oat variety is that it combines a more digestible hull with a higher fat content than regular varieties. What that gives us is a whole oat grain that has a feeding value for ruminants (like cattle) that is essentially equal to barley,” said Rossnagel.

That provides a number of advantages to both grain producers and the feeding industry, as oats are relatively less expensive to produce in Western Canada than barley.

However, Rossnagel said this variety also has potential to open up feed markets far from home.

“The other market that we are very hopeful for is the overseas market. Parts of Southeast Asia, particularly Japan, Korea and Taiwan, would place a high value on the digestible fibre in the oat hulls. Most of the fibre that is available to them locally is of very poor quality. Ruminant animals need a good source of digestible fibre in addition to high energy for the production of milk and meat. We hope that this material provides both fibre and energy in one package that can be fed without a lot of processing,” explained Rossnagel.

CDC SO- I has now been registered as a variety with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Pedigree seed growers began seed production in 2006, and commercial production should begin in 2009. When commercial production does begin, it will have been almost 10 years since the project began in 1999. However, that is still a much shorter process than normal: the research cycle was fast-tracked.

Rather than developing field-ready varieties for animal testing, CDC plant breeders produced prototype breeding lines that had the desired nutritional traits. That allowed the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Animal and Poultry Science to do early testing with livestock to see if the researchers were on the right track.

The project also involved a unique partnership. Super Oats Canada, a producer-researcher consortium, provided $210,000 in funding for the project, and the Saskatchewan government provided $207,000 through the Agriculture Development Fund.

“Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food and the Crop Development Centre have a long history of working together. The success of this project highlights the benefits of drawing on additional resources and direction from industry and other university departments,” said Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Wartman.

For more information, contact:

Brian Rossnagel, Professor (CDC), Department of Plant Sciences
University of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306) 791-4976
E-mail: brian.rossnagel@usask.ca

Beekeepers urge consumers to "Bee Canadian"

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The Saskatchewan Beekeepers’ Development Commission is stepping up its efforts to urge honey consumers to buy Canadian by urging them to read the fine print.

Commission President Tim Wendell says, often, it is not as simple as a quick glance at the label.

“We’re concerned that consumers are opting to buy imported honey without realizing it,” said Wendell. “We’re urging consumers to stop and read the entire label before they make their purchase. Just because it says 'Canada Grade No. 1' on the front of the label, doesn’t mean you’re buying Canadian honey.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the federal regulatory agency that sets the standards.

“If a honey producer in another country meets that standard, the producer is allowed to say it is Canada Grade No. 1,” explained Wendell. “However, if you look at the fine print on the back or the side, it indicates the country of origin, such as Australia or Argentina.”

Pierre the Bear, a mascot developed by the Canadian Honey Council for a promotional campaign, recently made an appearance at Canadian Western Agribition on the beekeepers' behalf to promote the "Buy Canadian" campaign.

There are 130 commercial beekeepers in Saskatchewan with more than 100 colonies each. Saskatchewan is a leading producer of honey, accounting for almost 24 per cent of Canadian production in 2005. Figures are not yet available for this harvest, but anecdotal evidence suggests it was a good year.

“Our honey is produced from canola, alfalfa, sweet clovers and borage. Our honey is produced in a clean, pristine environment, free of heavy industry. Our climate and agricultural conditions, combined with beekeepers' management skills, result in Saskatchewan having the largest per capita honey production in Canada, and perhaps one of the highest in the world,” explains Wendell.

Wendell is also appealing to all other commodity organizations to support the beekeepers.

“We ask Saskatchewan farmers who grow grain or specialty crops or who raise livestock to support our efforts because we’re part of the same agriculture industry,” he said. “Remember: Bee Canadian, Eat Our Honey!

For more information, contact:

Tim Wendell, President
Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission
Phone: (306) 742-4363
E-mail: tim@wendell.ca

4-H Keeps changing with the times

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Even though it has been operating in Saskatchewan for almost 90 years, 4-H has never been an organization that rests on its laurels.

Valerie Pearson, the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan 4-H Council, says the agency is always looking at ways to ensure it remains relevant to youth, while, at the same time, maintaining its core values and objectives.

“We’ve always said our claim to fame is our leadership. We’re developing responsible citizens for the future, to take leadership roles,” Pearson explained. “But that’s not always a good selling pitch to an eight-year-old or a 10-year-old, so we really strive to promote the fun aspect of belonging to a 4-H club in everything we do. While having fun, there are all sorts of activities through which these young people learn leadership skills, which is certainly something that parents appreciate.”

Pearson said a new national initiative has been undertaken which will soon thrust 4-H more prominently into the spotlight. The initiative was largely spearheaded by 4-H members from across Canada, who were given the opportunity to apply to be part of a “youth advertising team” for the organization, she noted.

The team spent two weekends working with advertising agencies to develop ads for a public awareness and promotional campaign that will roll out across the nation in the coming months, targeting young people.

“The initiative just launched on October 31, so we’ll be starting to see radio and TV ads down the road as things get into full swing,” Pearson noted. “The horse isn’t out of the barn yet, but it’s approaching the gate.”

Pearson said the main reason for the campaign was to ensure people know and understand what the 4-H program is all about, and to attract new members to the organization. “In some areas, our membership has been declining over the years, and we want to address that,” she stated. “This is one way we felt we could get youth interested in 4-H, to learn about the program and to join the program, eventually.”

The 4-H program in Saskatchewan is in good shape overall, Pearson said, but the Provincial Council is fully behind the initiative to increase membership.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve developed many new programs. We’ve got these programs in place, as well as new and energetic staff who are going out and meeting with clubs and districts as much as they can,” she stated. “Now we’re going to shift our focus to increasing our membership numbers, as well, for the long-term stability of 4-H in Saskatchewan.”

One of the more recent initiatives of 4-H in Saskatchewan has been to work more closely with First Nations in attracting youth and introducing new learning components. “We’re working hand-in-hand with the First Nations Agricultural Council of Saskatchewan,” Pearson said. “The goals of both organizations are essentially the same. We both want to work with youth; we both want to pass on information to the youth through knowledgeable, respected people. The First Nations call them elders; we call them leaders. Since we’re trying to do the same thing, and 4-H has an effective model already in place, we felt it would be very beneficial for us to work together.”

First Nations' participation in 4-H is beginning to increase, as a result, both within existing clubs and in the establishment of new clubs on reserves where sufficient interest exists. For example, almost 40 youth from Turner Lake, in the northern part of the province, recently attended a 4-H night.

The partnership has also enabled 4-H to augment its current programming with an aboriginal learning component. “A couple of years ago we received some federal funding through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,” Pearson said. “We were able to have some aboriginal project material written for us by aboriginal people, themselves, covering topics such as culture and traditions, foods, quilting and so forth. This material is available for all clubs to use, so that non-aboriginal 4-H members can also learn about another culture.”

Pearson says that young people who participate in 4-H clubs get hands-on experience doing a lot of neat things, while at the same time learning new skills, building leadership qualities and, most importantly, having fun. “We always stick to our motto: ‘Learn to do by doing.’ This is an organization that lets everyone try, lets everyone excel,” she said. “And you can bet they’re going to have fun doing it.”

For further information, contact:
Valerie Pearson, Executive Director
4-H Council of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306) 933-7729
Website: www.4-h.sk.ca

Articifial insemination (AI) expert to teach producer workshop

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

When a man’s got more than three decades of experience under his belt, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable authority. Given the credentials of Albert Harrison, producers attending the upcoming Artificial Insemination (AI) School in Shaunavon will have a chance to learn from a real expert.

“I’ve been in the business for over 35 years,” said Harrison. “I run an artificial insemination business out of Swift Current, arming anywhere from two to three thousand head of cattle a year for customers.”

Harrison will be the instructor for a comprehensive five-day workshop on AI, scheduled to take place December 12-16 at the Shaunavon Auction Mart. Producers taking the course will receive extensive training in all aspects of AI.

“What they’re going to do is go through anatomy and physiology, they’re going to learn about the process of artificially inseminating cattle, about semen handling and placement, about proper storage and the liquid nitrogen tanks where you keep the semen, and a whole lot more” said Harrison. “I have a number of speakers come in, like nutritionists, veterinarians, and owners from a couple of different studs.”

But the training won’t be limited to the classroom. Harrison notes that a considerable portion of the workshop will be spent in the barn, learning through doing. “We spend about an hour-and-a-half in the classroom in the morning and an hour-and-a-half in the afternoon, and the rest of the time is spent working on live cows,” he said.

The AI School would be of interest to anyone in the cattle business or dairy industry, according to Harrison, since the practice offers a number of significant benefits over conventional livestock breeding. The primary benefit is genetics, particularly the ability to select from a broader range of bulls with specific characteristics that a producer might want to match with his or her cows.

Artificial insemination is cost-effective from the standpoint of not having to purchase, feed and keep as many bulls on the farm. Additionally, AI offers the opportunity for farmers to better co-ordinate their calving period. “If you synchronize a group of 100 head through AI, you’re going to have the ones that conceive on that breeding drop their calves [within a period of] probably 10 days; whereas, if you have them bull-bred, it’s spread out over at least 30 days, if they all conceive on that breeding,” said Harrison.

“So if you’re a producer, that puts more pounds on the calves, more pounds when you sell them, more money in your pocket.”

Harrison notes that even people who don’t intend to practice AI on their farms have taken his course in the past, simply because it is so comprehensive. “Some people go just for the education part of it, whether they arm any cows afterward or not, because what they learn at the school really opens their eyes to their own operations.”

The cost of attending the AI School is $800 per person for the full five-day workshop. However, it is recognized as an approved course under the federal Canadian Agricultural Skills Service (CASS) program, meaning that farmers who have qualified for CASS can obtain funding to help defray their costs. Producers interested in finding out more about CASS, including whether or not they might be eligible, can call toll-free 1-888-887-7977.

To register for the AI School on December 12-16 in Shaunavon, producers can call Albert Harrison at (306) 297-3139.

For more information, contact:

Albert Harrison
Phone: (306) 297-3139
Canadian Agricultural Skills Service (CASS)
Phone: 1-888-887-7977

Agriculture health and safety gets big boost with donations

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) at the University of Saskatchewan is having a celebratory month, with a 20th anniversary as well as new donations to its “Founding Chairs” program.

The CCHSA held an appreciation event in November to celebrate contributions to its “Founding Chairs” program from some familiar agricultural partners: Farm Credit Canada (FCC), Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP) and a special investment from the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

The three companies each donated $250,000 towards the program, which provides research funds for special projects, student training and knowledge translation in the area of agricultural health and safety. The University of Saskatchewan committed $125,000 to the program from the Dr. Peter D. Stewart Trust.

“These organizations, Farm Credit Canada, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Federated Co-op, are intricately linked to the very people that the CCHSA reaches out to – farm families and workers,” said Dr. James Dosman, Director of the CCHSA.

A portion of the funds will be used to help equip the centre when it makes the move to new headquarters in the Academic Health Sciences Building on the U of S campus. The remainder of the funds will go toward new research projects or ongoing development of existing projects.

Acknowledging two decades of projects and research is also on the agenda for CCHSA in early December. The centre is celebrating the evolution it has undergone since its beginnings as the Centre for Agricultural Medicine. The CCHSA is now co-located with the Institute of Agricultural Rural and Environmental Health (IAREH) at the U of S. It officially turns 20 this month, and its anniversary celebrations are taking place at various locations throughout Saskatoon.

“The anniversary celebrates how the Centre for Agricultural Medicine has kept evolving and growing over the last 20 years to become a national centre of excellence,” said Maura Gillis-Cipywnyk with IAREH.

The CCHSA is now home to a national lab, as well as being linked to a network of 66 scientists working at 14 different universities across the country. The scientists and their research focus on four themes of agricultural health: what we breathe, what we eat and drink, how we work and how we live. “This centre is the first of its kind in Canada,” said Gillis-Cipywnyk.

Anniversary celebrations include several conferences looking at various research issues, including a research conference on farm injuries that examines the issues and competencies that underlie injury prevention strategies.

For more information, contact:

Maura Gillis-Cipywnyk
Institute of Agricultural Rural and Environmental Health
Phone: (306) 966-8302

Leann Labrash
Institute of Agricultural Rural and Environmental Health
Phone: (306) 966-6647

Feeds innovation institute emphasizes value-added production

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

He's only been on the job for a few months, but the executive director of the new Feeds Innovation Institute (FII) is excited by what’s happening.

Dr. Scott Wright heads the institute, based at the University of Saskatchewan. The FII evolved from the former Prairie Feed Research Centre, which had been operating at the university under the leadership of Vern Racz.

“While Vern has retired as executive director, he continues to work with us as a consulting research scientist,” said Wright. “We are fortunate to have his experience and the continuity he provides.”

According to Wright, “There has been scientific co-operation. The gap has been in connecting that to the industry priorities and to value-creation. We have a clearly expanding and growing market for enhanced livestock production in the province, as well as a demand for specialized feed products.” He sees the FII as “moving from a pure science response to a broader business and enterprise development response in the emerging markets for new feed crop technologies and processes.”

Currently, though Saskatchewan produces around 50 per cent of Canada’s grain crop, only about 10 per cent of that production is being used for domestic feed.

Wright noted, “We’re only just beginning to get a solid handle on value chain development, and how to create workable value chains that share risk-for-profit in a highly globalized market.”

He points to the tonnes of grain screenings now being used to feed livestock and the development of the new super-oat strain as just some of the evidence that feed research and development is paying off in the field.

The FII will emphasize partnerships and draw on the strength of the bio-products innovation cluster centred at the University of Saskatchewan. This cluster includes the Departments of Animal and Poultry Science, Agriculture Economics, Bioresource Engineering and the Crop Development Centre. It will also maintain close links with associated groups like the Prairie Swine Centre, Ag-West Bio Inc. and PAMI, to name a few.

In the short term, Wright says the institute’s work will “focus on creating additional value from feed in areas of the bio-economy like bio-fuels, and in satisfying demand for specialized feed products.” He also looks forward to future work on what he calls the “golden triangle:” the relationship between crops used for animal feed, crops used for food and crops used for industrial purposes.

For more information, contact:

Dr. Scott Wright, Executive Director
Feeds Innovation Institute
Phone: (306) 966-4120

Major grazing and forage conference set for swift current

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A major livestock and grazing event is set to occur in Swift Current on December 12-13. This will be the fourth “Foraging into the Future” workshop to take place in the city, with the theme of this year’s session being “Understanding Selective Grazing Behaviour on the Range.”

Previous “Foraging into the Future” workshops have attracted anywhere from 125-225 participants. Trevor Lennox, a Forage Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF), says organizers are expecting the 2006 version to be just as well-received, if not more popular.

“The workshop will put producers in contact with some of North America’s leading forage and grazing researchers,” Lennox noted.

One such expert is Dr. Derek Bailey of New Mexico State University, who will speak about improving ranch profitability by selecting animals that are better adapted to the topography of one’s rangeland. In this session, Bailey will address topics such as grazing distribution and why it matters to producers, differences in the ability of individual animals to graze rugged farmland, and better developing animals to their rangeland conditions.

Bailey will further discuss his research on using grazing management tools, such as supplemental feeding and herding, to improve animal distribution into areas where forage resources are underutilized. He will also speak on the use of livestock as a tool to improve wildlife habitat on rangeland.

Dr. Jeff Mosley from Montana State University will help producers gain a better understanding of grazing behaviour of rangeland cattle, and what techniques can be used for limiting the affects of grazing on riparian areas. By understanding their habits, farmers can better manage where cattle will graze on their rangeland.

“Retaining youth in agriculture is an issue near and dear to the hearts of everyone involved in the industry,” said Lennox. “That topic will be discussed at this year’s conference by Christoph Weder, recently named the 2006 Alberta Outstanding Young Farmer, who will be sharing his experiences with participants.”

Weder recently left his job as a beef specialist in Alberta to pursue his dream of ranching on a full-time basis. He will also talk about methods he has found to improve the cow/calf producer's profitability in the beef industry.

A popular feature that will continue from previous workshops is the producer panel, which, this year, will discuss various methods of improving distribution on rangeland. “The producer panel provides an excellent forum in which participants can hear what their colleagues are doing, and perhaps pick up some useful tips in the process,” Lennox said.

A new item added for the 2006 workshop is “Tips and Tricks for Training Cattle Dogs,” a topic that will be presented by a very popular trainer from southwest Saskatchewan. “Cattle dogs are an important asset when it comes to working with animals, and this session will give producers an inside perspective from the eyes of a professional dog handler,” Lennox stated.

The program will finish with several updates from groups doing forage research on the Canadian Prairies, including the Western Beef Development Centre in Lanigan, the Chinook Applied Research Association in Oyen, Alberta, and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research facilities in Swift Current, Scott and Brandon.

The planning committee has worked hard to attract funding for this event, and is very proud to be able to offer a two-day event of this quality for only $50 per person or $80 per family couple. Producers interested in attending the workshop must pre-register by calling the SAF regional office in Swift Current at (306) 778-8285.

For further information, contact:

Trevor Lennox, Forage Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 778-8294

Trail of Tears Updates

The Cherokee Trail of Tears is a part of Southern Illinois' history that it not well-marked or widely known. That's due in part to the fact that we are the only state along the trail that does not have an interpretive center along the route to educate tourists to the history.

While there is an effort underway to rectify that situation, two recent developments should help in the future.

The first comes from SIU. Geophysicist Harvey Henson just received a $30,000 grant to search for unmarked Cherokee graves presumably near Campground Church in eastern Union County near Anna.
The National Park Service and the University are roughly splitting the cost for the study, which researchers hope will identify the graves of Cherokee who died in Southern Illinois during the 1838-39 Trail of Tears forced relocation.

Stories passed down through generations said German settlers allowed the Cherokee to bury their dead in the cemetery during the harsh winter that trapped them in the area. Some records indicate about 400 Cherokee died here, but other reports claim the dead numbered up to 4,000.

Last year, Henson began searching the two-acre cemetery with instruments that allow researchers to peer beneath the seemingly undisturbed ground for indications of gravesites. Using magnetic, electric conductivity and ground-penetrating radar instruments, the team confirmed the existence of up to three unmarked graves in a relatively small part of it.

For more information check out the entire news release.

The second event also took place over the fall veto session of the Illinois legislature when they made Route 148 the official state historic route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The Southern has the story.

The National Park Service designated this this official auto route of the national historic trail back in the 1990s, but the state had never followed suit. This will help with future grant applications.

I Converse With The MDR

First off I want to swear I was not making a grand pronouncement when this photo was taken.

Really. I mean it.


Tom Kane took this photo on my first day on the job. Cherri Flinn and I participated in the conversation last week.

I'm serious about this job, but just ask the folks who work here at the tourism bureau. They know I don't normally wave my arms.

Seriously though, the Marion Daily Republican printed today their weekly conversation with someone. This week it was me.

At one point during the interview Cherri asked how many destinations or attractions we have in Williamson County. It's a good question and one I'm ashamed to say we can't answer.

We haven't done a very good job of engaging with the local public over the last few years and keeping track of what's been developing here in our own backyard. Instead, the bureau has focused the vast majority of its attention toward the operations of the Williamson County Pavilion.

We let too many basic tourism bureau functions slip to a secondary position as the staff stretched to keep up with the day-to-day operations of the Pavilion, but things are changing.

This summer the Williamson County Tourism Board created the position of a full-time Events Coordinator which despite a broader job description generally focuses on the day-to-day operations of the Pavilion.

Stacey Pearce, who previously worked part-time doing just that, now handles the full-time position; and from what I've seen these last few weeks she does it well. She's the person to contact if you're interested in renting a small conference, a ballroom or the Expo Hall.

In the next few days I'll be announcing our next step as we reach out to the residents and local businesses here in Williamson County as we ask them to become active with us to develop tourism here.

In a conversation today with the folks from the Arthur Agency in Carbondale, I outlined my goals and made clear my position.

I am not satisfied with the job we've done with tourism in Southern Illinois. I'm not satisfied with the job we've accomplished in this office.

I write these words now not to be harsh, but to be honest.

If we can't see the truth, if we can't speak it. We can't get the job done.

Southern Illinois has seen a number of accomplishments in tourism over the decades. It's my desire to build on top of those even greater accomplishments for us as residents of this region.

We deserve better.

But if we want to get it done, it's time to roll up our sleeves and start.

Herrin Civic Center Lands Marvin Hamlisch

The Herrin Civic Center has landed award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch to headline an Independence Day holiday concert next July 3.

The concert also features the Chicago Chamber Orchestra.

The Independent's Geoffrey Ritter broke the story last week.
While tickets are not yet on sale, Carl Ortale, executive director of the Civic Center, said they likely will cost between $155 and $175 each and that the admission price also will include a catered dinner. He said people interested in getting seats can begin contacting the Civic Center immediately.

Ortale and the Civic Center staff have been working for months to arrange the performance... He was excited at the sort of crowd the concert might pull in.

"He's just one of those huge mainstays," Orale said of Hamlish. "The guy's a genius and he's a nice guy."

For more info call the Herrin Civic Center at 618-942-6115 or e-mail the staff at info@herrinciviccenter.com.

Old Restaurants Upgrade, New Ones Build

It's nice to see the owners of Arby's and Wendy's begin renovations on their eateries in Marion. That's how you stay competitive.

On the west side, Burgers 'n' Cream is hiring new staff and should open soon next to McAlister's Deli just below The Hill.

Wine Trail Updates

Since the designation last week of the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area I've been learning a lot about the local wine industry in Williamson County.

According to one report we have eight vineyards in the county, though I have not actually been able to identify all eight.

As for the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, it will be extending into the county in 2007. Plans are to take a spur north up Rocky Comfort Road from Blue Sky Winery to Grassy Road and from there east to Route 148.

Travelers coming up the interstate may have noticed that Blue Sky Winery is advertising at I-57 interchange with Route 148 at Exit 45 (Lake of Egypt). Look for Owl Creek Winery to do the same.

Also last week a local developer called me looking for partners for winery project in the Marion area. He has the property and location. Interested parties should call me here at the office at 618-997-3690.

Southern Covers West End's Growth

There once was a time when Marion's west end was the creek that flows around what's now the intersection of West Main and Court Streets. Now it's the area of The Hill and points west of Interstate 57.

The Southern Illinoisan highlighted the recent growth in this corridor in a John D. Homan article in yesterday's paper.

Marion's Mayor Bob Butler remains astonished at the development of The Hill.
"I never dreamed there would be any growth there at all," said Butler, who likened the area to a devastated wilderness for decades. "It was strip pits and spoil banks. The area looked like it had been bombed. Now look at it. Practically every day, retail-type establishments are contacting us and asking us about building there."

Butler said the credit rests squarely on the shoulders of land developers Doug Bradley, Lynn Holmes and G.A. White, who invested their money and effort into that location.

Saskatchewan innovator honoured with agri-food award of excellence

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The Canadian Agri-Food Awards of Excellence have been handed out each year since 2001 to recognize outstanding achievement in five areas that are considered vital to the continued success of the agricultural sector.

Unbelievably, no one from Saskatchewan, the province with the most diverse and innovative agricultural sector in the land, had ever been honoured with such an award - until now.

Lee Whittington is the Manager of Information Services with the Prairie Swine Centre, a non-profit research and technology organization affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan. At the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair last month in Toronto, he took home the province's first ever Agri-Food Award of Excellence, in the category of Agricultural Awareness and Education.

Whittington received the honour for his "dedication, enthusiasm and vision in establishing the Pork Interpretive Gallery," or PIG, at the Prairie Swine Centre's Elstow Research Farm.

"The Pork Interpretive Gallery is basically a science centre that is located in the attic of a commercial-style pork barn," Whittington said. The concept stemmed from a set of meetings that took place in 1998, when the Prairie Swine Centre was looking at establishing a new research farm. Officials from the centre traveled Western Canada, meeting with researchers, farmers, veterinarians and other people associated with the pig industry to see what questions they felt would need to be answered by research in the coming years.

"One of the things that kept coming up at these meetings, which was completely unexpected, was the request by the industry to allow people into the hog barns," Whittington said.

However, there are considerable bio-security precautions incorporated into the pork industry, and access to the barns is very restricted. "Basically, nobody gets in unless they've got a really good reason for being there," he stated. "Doors are locked tight, there are shower facilities for people to use before they enter, and all clothing worn inside is supplied by the farm." Because of these precautions, the notion of taking tour groups or school students through such facilities was simply unworkable.

But when Whittington and his counterparts looked into the design of the barn as they were building it, they realized there was a lot of space up in the attic, and saw a great opportunity to build a bio-secure walkway. Visitors could be brought inside the shell of the barn, then view the pigs through windows in the ceiling, thereby maintaining a separate air space between the animals and the observers.

"We've got a dozen great big, 12-foot-wide windows that look into every aspect of the barn," Whittington stated. "You can see pigs at all stages of growth, and different types of housing configurations that are available in the barn. Then, between the windows are displays talking about what the pork industry is all about." There are exhibits discussing issues such as odour management and the use of by-products generated by pork processing, such as hog hair, and the pigs' ears that end up as dog treats.

The project became a collaborative effort, with producers and pork associations from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario all participating and contributing more than $500,000 towards the initiative.

To date, more than 4,000 people have visited the "living classroom" that helps dispel myths and misconceptions about the pork industry. But Whittington humbly defers the credit he receives for the PIG interpretive centre.

"PIG is an educational exhibit that tries to address and provide facts about the pork industry. The pork industry has a wonderful story to tell, but that story tends not to get told, or certainly doesn't get as much press as the negatives that surround livestock agriculture," he said.

"So, the award is a tremendous acknowledgement of the importance of keeping agriculture in the forefront of all the population. To me, it really points to the fact that there is a keen interest by many groups out there to see agriculture's story updated and told in modern terms as to what exactly happens in a modern pork production facility."

Whittington says the centre has done a terrific job of advancing public awareness and education about the pork industry. "When you take a group of kids through, and they see what a barn is really all about, some of the comments you get back are, 'Gee, I hope I can work in a place like this some day.' I'm sure that's not the discussion they had with their parents the night before when they said they were going out to a pig barn."

Guided tours of the PIG facility are available to interested individuals, groups or school classes. They can be arranged by contacting Jessica Podhordeski, the Agricultural Education Co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board in Saskatoon, at (306) 343-3508.

For more information, contact:

Lee Whittington, Manager of Information Services
Prairie Swine Centre
Phone: (306) 373-9922
Website: www.prairieswine.com

Saskatchewan grain drives activity at port of Churchill

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Once again, in 2006, Saskatchewan grain made up the vast majority of the shipping through the Port of Churchill, Manitoba.

According to the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), there were 384,000 tonnes of wheat and durum shipped through Churchill this year. The total was an increase over the 353,000 tonnes in 2005, as well as the 361,000 tonnes shipped in 2004.

OmnxiTRAX Inc. owns and manages the port facility and the single rail line that connects to Churchill from The Pas, Manitoba. Michael Ogborn, managing director of OmniTRAX, said, "We have repeatedly shown that this port operation is more than capable of efficiently handling grain and other cargos. It has a very bright future, provided our core wheat traffic remains strong."

This year, grain was loaded on a total of 12 vessels, which were destined to deliver to customers in Mexico, Europe and Africa. The final departure of the season left on November 2, carrying 44,000 tonnes destined for Sudan. Past delivery destinations have included Belgium, Cameroon, Ecuador, Ghana, Greece, Morocco, Norway and Turkey. Over the past four years, the biggest customer for Churchill shipments has been Italy, which has received some 283,000 tonnes.

CWB shipments represent approximately 80 per cent of the grain passing through Churchill. Board spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry said the CWB remains committed to Churchill "because it makes economic sense to farmers." She added that the agency is supportive of non-Board shipments, as well, in order to "maintain the viability of the port." The CWB is targeted to deliver about 400,000 tonnes per year to Churchill, with the port's continued operation based on an objective of 500,000 tonnes per year, total.

The primary catchment area for Churchill deliveries is northeast Saskatchewan, comprising the regions around Prince Albert, Humboldt, Canora and points north. For producers in these areas, the Churchill route is simply less expensive than shipping through Thunder Bay or Vancouver. Approximately 35 to 40 per cent of producers receive a Churchill Freight Adjustment Rebate to guarantee that cost difference.

The port is normally ice-free for five months per year, with the shipping season beginning in July and running to November. In 2006, the port operators, local workers in Churchill and the railways worked together to maximize shipments, despite facing some stormy weather in October. Workers remained on the job around the clock during the last few weeks of the season to meet shipping schedules set by the Canadian Coast Guard.

According to Fitzhenry, "the railways made a considerable effort" to provide and turn around grain cars in a timely fashion.

Since 1996, Saskatchewan wheat and durum have comprised the bulk of shipments through the Port of Churchill, which have totalled some 4.2 million tones.

For more information, contact:

Maureen Fitzhenry, Media Relations Manager
Canadian Wheat Board
Phone: (204) 983-3101
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