Christmas Craft Market & Holiday Book Fair on the Way

The Williamson County Pavilion will play host to the first (and what organizers hope will become an annual) Southern Illinois Christmas Craft Market later this year during the first weekend of December.

Glenda Kelton & Alexis Wilson of Yarn Creations out of Carterville are organizing the event. The Williamson County Tourism Bureau is co-sponsoring it.

"Crafting is becoming a lost art. We want our show to be a rue craft show, no buy/sell items, no items from kits, etc.," the pair explains in their letter to crafters going out this week.

Selection will be a jury process and the organizers will be asking for photos to be enclosed with the application forms.

I'm looking forward to this event because I think it will be pull together the various Christmas season events that normally take place on that weekend.

While the craft market is taking place in the Expo Hall, we're also looking at filling the ballrooms with a Holiday Book Fair focusing on authors from around the region and neighboring states.

For more information on the Christmas Craft Market contact Glenda Kelton & Alexis Wilson at either 618-922-4815 or at 618-771-2956.

For more information on the book fair contact us here at the tourism office at 618-997-3690.

We're also looking at a third event for the ballrooms, but details on that won't be released until we have everything in place.

Dinosaurs Looking For Place to Roam in Region

Could Southern Illinois become host to the world's largest dinosaur museum? That's what one pair of developers, CM Studio, is considering for Collinsville.
BENLD — Charlie McGrady peddled his dinosaurs one daspletosaurus at a time. But, he figured, there had to be a better way.

Fifteen years ago, he gave up a bank job on Wall Street to focus on dinosaur sculpting, a skill that started as untrained tinkering and took off from there.

Since then, he and Brian Page, who is his partner and nephew, have built about 600 life-size, lifelike dinosaurs and sold them to museums and businesses around the world. Now, the partners are looking for a place of their own.

They want to build in Collinsville the world's largest museum devoted to dinosaurs. The team is working on designs for a $2.5 million complex that would feature 100 dinosaurs, 50 skeletons and a theater in a 25,000-square-foot building.

Check out the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for the rest of the story.

Marion Receives Public Preservation Grant

The governor's office is announcing that Marion and Carbondale will receive nearly $8,000 in historic preservation grants. The awards are part of eight announced yesterday for communities around the state.

Marion will receive $4,900 for a public education campaign involving the development and creation of a local landmarks brochure, publication of articles, public service announcements, property owner education, and cooperative interaction with the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

Carbondale will receive $2,975 for a historic preservation awards program, as well as a tram tour of historic neighborhoods with an accompanying brochure highlighting the city’s most significant cultural resources.

Marion's proposal includes development of a brochure for both the existing 24 designated historic homes, as well as those in a proposed historic district stretching along South Market Street.

Part of the grant will help promote the awareness of historic sites in the city. In addition the city's Historic Preservation Commission will work us here at the tourism bureau to help develop and promote heritage tourism in the city.

Marion's Director of Economic Development Gail West wrote the grant submitted on behalf of the city.
Communities that have achieved Certified Local Government status under the National Historic Preservation Act were encouraged to apply for $45,935 in grant funds that are available this fiscal year through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). These federal funds are specifically earmarked for local grants in the areas of public preservation and development.

The federal grant funds administered by IHPA were awarded on a matching basis, with the federal funds paying for up to 70 percent of project costs and local funds making up the remainder. The projects must relate to historic preservation and could include planning, public education workshops and heritage publications, National Register of Historic Places property listings, and development.

"The Certified Local Government program allows municipalities and counties to participate as partners in state and federal preservation activities," said Catherine O’Connor, Certified Local Government program administrator for IHPA. "Currently, we work with 62 such communities in all regions of the state."

Other communities will receive funds for the following programs:

ROCK ISLAND will receive $11,666 to reprint popular and extensive architectural and historical walking tour brochures that highlight the city’s recent “Preserve America” project. These brochures emphasize the Centennial Bridge, Mississippi River heritage attractions, and other heritage tourism sites.

EDWARDSVILLE will receive $7,028 to design and produce a guide featuring the city-owned Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House. The guide will be used to train educators to interpret the house for elementary students.

URBANA was awarded $3,150 for a day-long workshop with a lecture and demonstration by Bob Yapp, a nationally-recognized preservation expert. His hands-on, multi-media presentation will address the proper care and repair of windows in historic structures, as well as working with lead paint in historic properties.

MARENGO will receive $2,216 to produce a guide that highlights locally designated landmarks with descriptions and photos. They will also produce a brochure that helps residents better understand the landmark and historic district program and procedures.

WILL COUNTY was awarded $7,000 to develop brochures that provide a general overview of the function and role of the Historic Preservation Commission in Will County, as well as landmark designation information with a list of the County’s significant historic resources.

CHICAGO will receive $7,000 to develop and make 30,000 copies of the 2007 Chicago Landmarks Map Brochure, one of the City’s most widely available public information resources, which will be updated to include new local historic landmarks designated in 2006.

ILOs a positive source for rural emoloyment

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Livestock production has always been part of the make-up of farming in the province.

The move to establishing intensive livestock operations (ILOs) is a logical step based on that history, and is a good source of economic development for rural and small-town Saskatchewan. Not only does it integrate well with other value-added initiatives, such as meat packing plants or ethanol facilities, it also provides a steady stream of employment to keep young people and families in the region.

Jim Birch, a Human Resources Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF), has witnessed the positive economic impact these enterprises have had on rural Saskatchewan.

“ILOs and cow-calf operations are recognized as good employers, and are more and more able to offer year-round work. They are even bringing people back to the province to be closer to friends and family members,” Birch said.

“The operations are paying competitive wages, and the larger ones regularly offer benefit packages. They offer medical and dental plans, long- and short-term disability and assistance in purchasing RSPs. They offer flexible hours, making it possible for part-time work, which is particularly attractive for parents with school-age kids. In some cases, rural spouses are entering or re-entering the work force as a result of ILOs in their area, too.”

Another aspect that Birch feels appeals to many potential employees is the diversity of work ILOs offer, depending on the type of livestock raised there. For example, the pork production units offer opportunities for those preferring inside work. Feedlots appeal to those preferring to work mainly outdoors with cattle. Dairy units offer a variety of different jobs—year-round work inside the barns and seasonal work outside putting up feed.

Birch says that ILO operators are increasingly willing to invest in education and training opportunities for their employees. “This sort of commitment often helps employers retain their staff for the long haul. Employees obtain satisfaction from acquiring new skills, and appreciate the employer providing them with opportunities to better themselves,” he noted.

“Employers also know that assets like skills training and safety courses raise the productivity, know-how and morale of their workforces, which only benefits the profitability and success of their operations.”

ILOs are able to offer on-site training through the Saskatchewan Institutes of Applied Science and Technology, regional colleges or SAF’s Green Certificate Training program, leading to certification. The very large operations sometimes offer in-house training developed within the company.

Even so, like many sectors of the economy today, ILOs can also encounter difficulty finding enough skilled workers to meet their needs. For its part, Birch says that SAF is willing to offer assistance in a number of ways to help these operations address their human resource challenges.

“We can link employers with a variety of agencies that will help them to recruit or locate willing employees. We can provide tips on preparing job descriptions and writing job advertisements. We can direct them to contacts for interpreting labour legislation,” he said.

Birch noted that SAF is co-operating with M├ętis employment agencies and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations to ensure that aboriginal workers are aware of opportunities in the livestock production and processing sectors.

SAF also maintains a relationship with the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program, under which employers identify and nominate workers in other countries to come to Saskatchewan to fill holes in the workforce. “We can provide assistance to producers or ILO managers wishing to investigate this option, as well,” Birch said.

For more information, contact:
Jim Birch, PAg., Human Resources Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 787-8191
E-mail: jbirch@agr.gov.sk.ca

Regina-based seed company sows new oats

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A seed of an idea has grown into a new agri-business for the Regina-based FarmPure group of companies.

The FarmPure group grew out of Quality Assured Seeds of Regina, and out of CEO Trenton Baisley’s desire to develop new value-added products.

“When we looked at some of the wonderful varieties that we’ve had the opportunity to commercialize, we realized there were some very good opportunities to take things through to consumer-ready goods, so that’s what really started us on the path of value creation,” said Baisley.

Three years ago, FarmPure changed its vision statement to read: “To create the most rewarding and sustainable value chains in the world for our stakeholders and customers.” Baisley says this made all the difference in the company’s approach to doing business.

The concept of getting the most from the value chain led to the formation of the FarmPure family of companies: FarmPure Foods, FarmPure Beverages, FarmPure Seeds, FarmPure Global and FarmPure Financial.

“Each of those companies deals in various value-chain initiatives, both in Canada and internationally, and from that we’ve spawned the food side,” explained Baisley. “We've made our first brick-and-mortar investment here in Regina, which is a Pure Oat plant.”

The plant will use a proprietary oat-roasting process to produce consumer-ready foods under the “Only Oats”TM label. “The process that we use to roast and toast our oats is different from any other oat manufacturing in the world. We think it gives a very nice flavour, and we've certainly had good feedback.” Baisley said.

FarmPure developed the Pure Oat variety for people with gluten- or wheat-intolerant diets, but expects the product will also be used by those who just want to be healthy, as well.

Baisley says FarmPure already has a lot of formal expressions of interest for the product, and FarmPure staff is hitting the road this month to find more companies and food retailers to carry the “Only Oats”TM line, which uses the Pure Oat variety exclusively.

Baisley is also heading to Winnipeg for the launch of a FarmPure Beverages product. FarmPure’s beverage mix, “Nu Bru”TM, is being used by Winnipeg’s Fort Gary Breweries to make its Golden Lager beer.

“‘Nu Bru’TM is a really exciting patent process that we’ve come up with,” said Baisley. “It all started out in developing a gluten-free beer for the celiac market, but our process makes a very neutral base that we can flavour into berry coolers, wine coolers or beer. It also lends itself to be blended with existing malt-based beverages to enhance taste and foaming.”

Baisley says that, after a career that has seen moves to Alberta and Chicago, he and his family are happy to be home in Saskatchewan, where he has been able to pursue his personal goals.

“It’s been a personal aspiration to have either a division or a company, something you could kind of put your thumbprint on where you make a difference in a corporation. So this has been a pretty exciting opportunity for me personally.”

Once the new Regina plant is ready for production, Baisley anticipates that “Only Oats”TM will be available at a variety of retailers in Regina and beyond. The company is also continuing to design new flavours and products in its test kitchen.

Baisley says there’s no forgetting the seeds that started it all. “The core of our business is still pedigreed seed, but as we say now, 'our business is value creation.'”

For more information, contact:
Trenton Baisley, CEO
FarmPure Group of Companies
Phone: (306) 791-3770
Website: www.farmpure.com

Restaurant giant the latest to ban transfats

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

You know it’s more than a fad when even the Golden Arches get on the bandwagon.

Restaurant giant McDonald’s has announced that it is switching to cooking oil with less than two per cent transfat.

McDonald’s announced that it would make the switch five years ago. After years of research, it has now chosen an oil blend based on canola oil with some soy and corn oil. Currently, 1,200 of McDonald’s 13,000 U.S. restaurants are using the oil, with more to follow suit in the coming months.

The move from the fast food leader comes on the heels of similar switches by the likes of KFC and Wendy’s. Burger King is also considering a similar move to reduce the amount of transfats in its products.

The City of New York’s Board of Health recently took the unprecedented step of banning transfats in all restaurants in the city by July 2008.

Shika Agblor, a Senior Food Scientist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, says it’s been a well-known and well-documented fact that transfats are unhealthy.

“Transfats have been a concern for some time. Transfats raise certain lipid levels in the blood that produce high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels lead to heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular problems. So that’s why there is a need to reduce transfats,” Agblor explained.

She says food manufacturers and restaurants are now responding to demand from consumers.

“People are looking to eat healthily, whether that is in a restaurant or at home. They want products that will help them attain that level of health,” Agblor said.

“The trend in the next 15 years is toward health and wellness, so consumers are saying to manufacturers, ‘We need to see a change in the food we purchase.’ That’s where it is coming from. The consumer is driving the agenda, and restaurants need to respond.”

While transfats have been the focus lately, Agblor says scientists are trying to stay ahead of consumer demands, and sugar is one product getting a lot of attention.

“There are solutions, but you need to be innovative. We know that obesity is a precursor to a lot of diseases, and we know that consumers keep asking for products that can help with weight management,” she stated.

“So a lot of people are looking towards foods that have a low glycemic index or no sugar added. We then have to determine what kind of alternatives we can put in the product to have the same sweetness.”

As always, the challenge is how to make a product healthy without sacrificing the taste. In the case of McDonald’s, that task was particularly daunting, given the iconic status of its signature french fries.

However, after testing 18 varieties of oil and over 50 different blends, McDonald’s is confident it has found the formula to keep out the transfats, but keep in the signature taste and texture of its fries.

For more information, contact:
Shika Agblor, Senior Food Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
(306) 933-5769

Prairie conservation conference attracts international interest

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A conservation convention with a global flair is coming once again to Saskatchewan.

The eighth annual Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference (PCESC) and Workshop will be held at the Delta Hotel in Regina from March 1 to 3, 2007.

The seminar is held every three years, rotating amongst Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Karyn Scalise, Manager of the Prairie Conservation Action Plan, says conference organizers have put together a terrific agenda that focuses on successfully combining ecological and economic interests.

“The theme of our conference this year is ‘Homes on the Range: Conservation in Working Prairie Landscapes.’ We live and earn a living on the prairies alongside thousands of plant and animal species, including some that are at risk. This conference looks at ways that relationship can work positively for all of us,” Scalise said.

“For example, most of the species at risk in Saskatchewan are found in the grasslands. Most of those lands are managed for livestock production, and there’s a lot of common ground between the needs of species at risk and what livestock producers provide through their management practices.”

This year’s PCESC has been organized around six main themes: Growing People and Communities; Ecological Services; Climate Change; Endangered Species and Spaces; Invasive Species and Diseases; and Water Management. These themes will be the focus of concurrent workshops running on Friday and Saturday afternoon, set up by keynote plenary addresses on both mornings.

It is common for the conference to attract considerable international attention, and Scalise says this year’s session is no different. “We have delegates registered all the way from West Africa, we have a couple of people from the University of Sweden, and some people from Nairobi, Kenya,” she noted.

But not all of the guests from far-off places will be in the audience. “We are also featuring a variety of reputable international speakers, who will be presenting side by side with local experts from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina,” Scalise said.

One speaker of particular interest will be L. Hunter Lovins, the president and founder of Natural Capitalism, Inc. in Colorado. According to Scalise, Lovins received the Time Magazine “Hero of the Planet” Award in 2000, primarily for her work taking big corporations and “making them green.” Her presentation will be on “The Integrated Bottom Line.”

Scalise expects attendance for the conference to top 400 people. “When it started, the seminar was largely a forum for people who were either academics or directly involved in conservation groups,” she observed.

“It’s turned a corner in the past few years, and there’s been a lot more interest from actual land managers and ranchers who operate on the native prairie. We have producers who are speaking at some of our workshops, and we expect to attract many more as delegates.”

Registration for the PCESC is $225 per person, including two lunches, a banquet and an evening mixer on Thursday night at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Although registration will be accepted at the door, interested delegates are asked to register in advance, if possible. This can be done on the conference website at www.pcesc.ca, or by calling (306) 569-8799.

More details on the seminar can also be found on the website.

For more information, contact:
Karyn Scalise, Manager
Prairie Conservation Action Plan
Phone : (306) 352-0472
Website : www.pcap-sk.org
Conference Website: www.pcesc.ca

Deadline approaching for water supply assistance program

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Farmers wishing to access financial assistance under the Canada-Saskatchewan Water Supply Expansion Program have until March 1, 2007, to file their applications.

The deadline applies to Tier One/On-Farm Infrastructure projects under the program.

Mark Geremia, Regional Ag-Water Manager with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), says this part of the program is relevant to projects on individual farms.

“It mostly pertains to small on-farm projects that include the dugout water supplies, wells and pasture pipelines. Typically, they are serving as livestock watering systems,” he stated.

The objective of the Water Supply Expansion Program is to provide assistance to the agricultural community to reduce the risk of future water shortages, and to meet water needs through the planning and development of secure, healthy and reliable water resources.

Successful applicants can receive funding for up to one-third of eligible project costs to a maximum of $5,000 per project.

“We target the best management practices for developing a better, more sustainable water supply,” said Geremia. “Some examples would be getting dugouts located in the best area for collecting run-off and sizing them properly, or having direct cattle access excluded to protect the longevity of the dugout.”

Applicants must complete an application for assistance, which includes project information such as location, description, estimated project costs, estimated start and completion dates, and sources of funding. Assistance is tied to the cost of materials and labour required to develop the eligible water source.

Geremia says it is important for applicants to consider the long-term implications of their projects.

“We would like the opportunity to work with applicants to see if there are options for more reliable water supplies than collecting run-off in a dugout,” he noted. “For example, you could be looking at pasture pipeline systems that would take water from a reliable well site, which could be cost-competitive with building a standard dugout in some instances.”

The application forms for assistance are available from AAFC and PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) offices, the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, and also online at www.agr.gc.ca/h2o. Interested producers can also learn more by calling 1-800-667-8567.

Geremia says there is plenty of support available for anyone who is developing an application under the program.

“We have a network of field offices where we have technicians who can help with some pre-planning,” he stated.

It is important to note that this is the final year of the four-year national Water Supply Expansion Program, and therefore, the March 1 deadline is the last chance to take advantage of this funding.

For more information, contact:
Mark Geremia, Regional Ag-Water Manager
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Phone: (306) 780-5653

Prices Drop for Williamson County Flights

Thanks to increased competition for air passengers flying out of Williamson County, not only are air fares to St. Louis dropping, but four companies are now vying for the Lambert Field contract.
RegionsAir this week announced a new fare structure... One-way fares start at $99 each way, with a maximum of $169. Round-trip fares run the gamut from $109 to $159.

Today's Southern Illinois has the story.

State-Wide Indoor Smoking Ban Considered

An Illinois House committee voted 9-0 yesterday to send to the full chamber a bill that ban indoor smoking throughout the state, a measure that would greatly benefit the health of hospitality workers.

The Bloomington Pantagraph has the story.

Golf Association Goes Online

The Southern Illinois Golf Association's new website just went online. Find it at www.sigagolf.org.

I attended their annual meeting two weeks ago. They're working on some exciting projects that would not only enhance the bottom line of the courses themselves, but tourism in general for the area.

The association has been serving its members here in Southern Illinois since 1924.

Major Development Set for Lake of Egypt

Efforts by the Southern Illinois Power Company to sell off part of their land holdings along Lake of Egypt to a large developer have been circulating for at least a year, if not longer.

If anyone is keeping track of entries for "Worst Kept Secret Award" this one should be in the running, or better yet, "Biggest Story Not Yet Covered" might be a better category.

Last November, The Cypress Company of St. Petersburg, Florida, filed the deeds for hundreds of acres of power company lands with the county clerk's office in Johnson County.

According to their website, they're planning a $25 million development with 427 housing units as well as some commercial development. No word yet, if any the development would be specifically tourism-related.

The biggest hurdle will be water, believe it or not. Despite being on a lake, the Lake of Egypt Water District is short water and had been planning on securing water from Marion's new lake before the Army Corps of Engineers decided to kill the project.

Post-Dispatch Columnist Recalls Presley Anecdote

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Pat Gauen recalls a funny anecdote in today's paper about the late Southern Illinois tourism activist Wayman Presley, founder of Presley Tours and one of the main organizers of Bald Knob Cross.

Gauen uses the anecdote as a set-up for the subject of his column. Presley's story, he noted, allegedly took place during the early days of Giant City State Park just in time for a bus tour visiting the site, and represents a practical joke that we can only wished would have been videotaped, had such technology existed at the time.
[Presley] explained that he had made an advance visit to prepare the women's privy.

Wayman said he lined the two-holer's seat with mink scraps, and dangled a speaker into the pit below from a wire linked to a small amplifier and microphone outside.

After watching a tourist slip in for a little luxury-upholstered relief, he said, he would yell into the mike: "Hey lady, would you mind moving to the other seat? We're working down here!"

For the rest of Gauen's column headlined, "Ty-D Bol one-upped; maybe call it Chide-y Bol?", check it out online.

Localized Almanac Provides Clues to Region

Nothing like linking to a Southern Illinoisan article that's been picked by the Associated Press and placed online by another newspaper — in this case the Daily Register — but Les Winkeler's story about the region's own almanac should be publicized.
CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Spicebush begins blooming in Southern Illinois about March 13. Mississippi kites begin heading south for the winter around Sept. 2. Collard greens should be planted between April 1-30.

These things may seem like minutia. However, these facts and thousands more are common knowledge for readers of "The Waterman & Hill Traveller’s Companion 2007 Nature Almanac." Well, maybe not common knowledge, but at least readily available.

The Waterman & Hill Traveller’s Companion is the 10-year-old brainchild of Jim Jung of Carbondale.

Rail Travel Up With New Chicago Train

Passenger travel increased on Amtrak between Carbondale and Chicago since a third route began last fall. The numbers are up 68 percent for November, December and January over the same time period last year.

The Association Press has the story.

Although the vast majority of travel on the old Illinois Central track from Carbondale to Chicago is Windy City-bound, there is a small segment of inter-city travel just here in Southern Illinois.

I was just told today about a couple from Marion who took the train from Carbondale to Centralia for dinner at the Centralia House restaurant, a historic eatery that catered to both Lincoln and Douglas prior to the Civil War when then Illinois Central was the only railroad in the state.

They took the 4 o'clock train up and the 8 o'clock train back.

Cruise Nights Returning to Herrin

The Southern Illinoisan has the story.
HERRIN - Organizers are already planning a major tune-up for Cruise Night, Herrin's venerable slice of Americana.

The first classic car won't roar into Herrin until June 1, but organizers from the Herrin Better Business Association are already busy looking for sponsors to keep the event a popular attraction.

A Herrin tradition, Cruise Night is held each Friday night on Park Avenue in Herrin. Classic cars line the sides of the street, and music from the 1950s to early 1970s is played as car fans have the opportunity to view the vehicles.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Rural Saskatchewan a perfect fit for pet food manufacturer

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A pet food manufacturer that set up shop in small-town Saskatchewan is proving that you don’t need to locate your business in a big city to be successful.

Horizon Pet Nutrition officially opened its brand new, state-of-the-art production plant in Rosthern on September 6, 2006. General Manager and owner Jason Skotheim says the company is already starting to build a reputation for the quality of its product.

“We’ve been on the shelf for a few months now, and we’re seeing increases in sales, so it’s all good news,” Skotheim stated.

“Our pet food stacks up with some of the best names in pet food out there. We’re using nothing but the best ingredients that we can find. So it’s a very high quality food, and I think people are starting to realize that. We’re getting very good response back from consumers.”

Horizon is currently focusing on producing pet food for companion animals, such as dogs and cats. The company produces a frozen raw product, and also has an extrusion line for manufacturing a dry kibble product.

Skotheim says that Saskatchewan ingredients figure prominently in Horizon’s popular pet food mixtures. “We took a look at the raw products we had in a very close radius of our plant, and we thought we could make some of the best pet food around just with these top-quality ingredients,” he said.

“Probably 99 per cent of what goes into our food comes from Western Canada, over 80 per cent from right here in Saskatchewan.”

Among the products currently used in Horizon’s pet food are fresh de-boned chicken, chicken meal, hulless barley, hulless oats and rye. In the future, the company may expand its line to include beef ingredients, depending on rulings in the United States, which is being eyed by the company as a key market for growth.

Skotheim had nothing but praise when asked about operating a manufacturing business in rural Saskatchewan. “It’s really been fantastic. We were looking for a community that would embrace us and invite us in to set up our operation. The town saw this as an opportunity to bring in more industry and more jobs, and the whole community has been very supportive,” he said.

“The Rosthern area fits well with us, because a lot of our ingredients are things that are grown very close to here, and there’s some industry. We’re using as much local production as we absolutely can. Our focus is to actually use more production, or even work with some of the growers around here to be producing specifically for us.”

Horizon currently operates with four full-time and two part-time employees, but if the popularity of its product keeps growing, Skotheim believes it is only a matter of time before additional staff will be required to keep pace with demand.

Most of the company’s product is marketed to specialty pet outlets through High Mountain Feed Distributors of Calgary. “Our pet food is now available in over 50 retail outlets from Victoria, B.C., to Selkirk, Manitoba, and we’re in the process of signing up others,” Skotheim noted.

In Saskatchewan, Horizon pet food can be found in stores in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Tisdale and Rosthern. Skotheim says the company is always eager to expand its customer base here in the province.

“We’d love to hear from Saskatchewan retailers who might be interested in giving our product a try,” he said.

Retailers can learn more about Horizon pet food by calling Jason Skotheim at (306) 232-4240, visiting the company’s website at www.horizonpetfood.com, or contacting High Mountain Feed Distributors in Calgary at 1-800-661-6788.

Pet owners interested in trying the product can also find a listing of Saskatchewan outlets currently carrying Horizon pet food on the company’s website.

For more information, contact:
Jason Skotheim, General Manager and Owner
Horizon Pet Nutrition/Horizon Manufacturing
Phone: (306) 232-4240
E-mail: skotheim@horizonpetfood.com
Website: www.horizonpetfood.com

Herb and spice industry looking to boost value-adding

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A conference entitled “Upping Your Value Proposition” will showcase best practices for herb and spice producers in Saskatchewan. The conference will be held February 28 at the Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon, after being postponed due to the blizzard that hit the province in early January.

Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association (SHSA) Executive Director Connie Kehler said, “One of the things we’ve seen is that businesses in Saskatchewan need help to do things differently. We’ve got some really good success stories here, and it’s about time we started hearing about them and learning from them.”

The conference is jointly sponsored by the herb and spice association and the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP). STEP President and CEO Dale Botting will present information to the conference about his agency’s new programs and services to support agriculture.

“Our partnership with STEP has shown us that both of our organizations are respected nationally and internationally,” said Kehler. “We are both from Saskatchewan, and we are out to support production and capture more value.”

Conference sessions will include commercial success stories, such as InfraReady, Pine View Farms and Prairie Berries Inc. Representatives from those businesses will also make themselves available for one-on-one consultative sessions.

Kehler says that an important focus of the meeting will be the so-called “copy cat syndrome,” where many producers rush into planting crops that are perceived to be in demand, and prices are driven down.

“We want to talk about developing unique ideas for new production, and we're always asking what value can be added here in Saskatchewan,” Kehler stated.

The SHSA represents producers, processors and manufacturers of herbs, spices and natural health products. The organization is also the home office for the Canadian Herb, Spice and Natural Health Production Coalition. The SHSA will hold its annual meeting during the lunch break at the seminar.

Kehler says the conference is open to any producer or entrepreneur who is looking for new ideas and inspiration. Anyone interested can obtain more information at the association’s website, www.saskherbspice.org, or by calling (306) 694-4622.

For more information, contact:
Connie Kehler, Executive Director
Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association
Phone: (306) 694-4622
Website: www.saskherbspice.org

New director of crop development centre familiar to Saskatchewan

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

“I’m happy as pie!” Those were the words of Dorothy Murrell, commenting on her appointment as Managing Director of the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan.

She started her new position on January 1 of this year.

“I’m still on the very steep slope of the learning curve here,” said Murrell. “The competence among the staff, the collaborative relationships and work with industry and grower groups is a real breath of fresh air.”

The CDC was established by Saskatchewan's agriculture department and the National Research Council in 1971. Its mission is to increase the diversification of crops and their products by improving existing varieties, creating new uses for traditional crops, and introducing new crops.

Murrell comes to the CDC with an impressive resume in the seed industry. Her most recent posting was as North American Business Manager for Svalof Weibull Seed Ltd. Prior to that, she was Production and Corporate Sales Manager for Newfield Seeds of Nipawin.

Those private sector postings followed experience as a forage seed specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food.

She is the president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and a past board member of Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership.

“What I’m finding is that my current relationships with external partners are easily transferred to this new role,” Murrell said. “The CDC has great cachet with grower groups in the province, which is well-deserved.”

While it is too early to say what her own vision for the centre is, Murrell is very conscious of the improvements to so-called traditional crops such as wheat, barley, flax, oats and the pulse crops that have originated with the CDC.

“I think it’s incredibly important to do the work that’s being done, to continue to look for opportunities within these crops. The position of the Crop Development Centre is to make sure that we are world leaders in those crops,” said Murrell.

She and her staff at the CDC are also looking at the changing environment and new markets that will call for new developments.

“This whole bio-fuels initiative has become so interesting. We have wheat breeding here which can feed into the process,” she noted.

Regardless of the project focus, Murrell says she is simply happy to be in Saskatchewan, contributing to the advancement of the province’s agricultural industry.

For more information, contact:
Dorothy Murrell, Managing Director
Crop Development Centre
Phone: (306) 966-8195
Week of February 12, 2007

Grasshopper numbers expected to be low for 2007

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Early indications project that Saskatchewan is in for a relatively light year on the grasshopper front.

That appears to be the overall trend outlined in the 2007 Grasshopper Forecast map developed by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF) and the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC). The map estimates that the general risk to cereal crops will be “none to very light” across most of Saskatchewan this year.

The predictions are based on adult grasshopper populations observed during a 2006 fall survey conducted by SCIC field personnel. The survey included approximately 1,150 sites, and attempted to determine the number of adult grasshoppers potentially capable of reproduction and egg-laying.

This information was then used to provide an estimate of eggs that could survive the winter and hatch the following spring, presenting a potential risk to crops for the 2007 growing season.

The warm, dry weather Saskatchewan experienced last summer and fall was conducive to an increase in grasshopper numbers; however, SAF Insect and Pest Management Specialist Scott Hartley said the grasshoppers are still recovering from past crop seasons that significantly reduced their overall population.

“Their population had already been decimated by two very poor years for grasshoppers, and it requires a rebuilding process,” he noted. “As a result, they’re starting from a smaller base.”

“The biggest single factor yet to be determined will be environmental conditions come spring,” he explained. “A number of factors will come into play, but it all revolves around what that springtime climate is going to be like.”

Although the province-wide prognosis looks favourable, Hartley says there are still pockets to watch out for.

“Areas in both the southeast and southwest were identified with a few light infestations that could develop into something more serious. An area of moderate risk is also indicated near Fox Valley in the southwest,” he stated.

“Producers also need to be extra careful on crops that are more vulnerable, because they take lower numbers of grasshoppers to cause a problem,” Hartley added. “On lentils, for example, even a count as low as two grasshoppers per square metre can cause economic damage. Flax is another crop in which, as green bolls develop, even a low number of grasshoppers can impact the yield.”

Hartley emphasized that the grasshopper forecast and map does not provide a definitive field-by-field projection, and farmers will still need to monitor for grasshopper populations as the year progresses.

“Overall, I think the grasshopper forecast is generally good news. The populations are much lower, so we don’t expect it to be a huge issue,” he said. “But there are some isolated areas to watch out for, where the numbers could be sufficient to do economic damage.”

The 2007 Grasshopper Forecast map can be found on the SAF website at www.agr.gov.sk.ca. Updates on the status of grasshopper populations in Saskatchewan will also be available during the production season through the SAF Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

For more information, contact:
Scott Hartley, Insect/Pest Management Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 787-4669

Australian quarantine: be aware, and be clean

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

It’s hard to believe that a single blade of grass could cost thousands of dollars – but in the strictly controlled world of exporting agricultural equipment to Australia, it’s a reality.

Sanitation is a big issue for a large number of Saskatchewan implement manufacturers who ship their products to Australia. They have found out that cleanliness is essential for any goods to be accepted into the country. It’s a fact that especially hits home around this time of year, when a lot of Saskatchewan equipment begins the long trip Down Under.

Because of Australia’s unique geography as an island continent, it has a self-contained ecosystem that is extremely sensitive to outside influences. A seed carried in the smallest piece of soil on a machine or an insect in a piece of bark on a wooden crate has the potential to disrupt the delicate eco-balance of the entire country. As a result, everything coming in is subject to quarantine.

The agency that oversees the quarantine regulations is the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, or AQIS.

Jerry Beler, with Beler International Forwarding in Regina, has experience in this area, and says that even the crates or packing must meet strict specifications.

“They look for any lumber used in loading, blocking or bracing,” he said. “That wood has to meet some strict standards to ensure that there are no problems with pests being imported into Australia. Timber requires the proper markings, including the temperature at which the lumber was kiln-dried. That temperature is 56 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 30 minutes. Bark is totally not allowed.”

Beler says, of course, that any soil or plant material must be removed.

“Containers are to be totally free of any kind of straw packing or any soil of any kind. Agricultural machinery also requires declarations stating that it is new and has not been field-tested. If it has been field-tested, then it comes under other requirements where, again, it cannot contain any seed, solid straw or anything like that,” Beler explained.

Richard Aspinall with Agrimex Importers and Exporters from Dysart says used equipment often has to be completely stripped down and cleaned.

“Dust collects in various parts of a machine. This builds up and builds up, even in just a fine layer on something like a wiring harness. Out of a 20-foot length of harness, you can wind up with a big pile of soil,” stated Aspinall.

Aspinall says you need a very keen eye and lots of patience to get a machine truly clean. “For example, in a seed metering mechanism, there are lots of places where a seed can be caught up in nooks and crannies.”

A compressor and a steam cleaner are just some of the tools of the trade, but a profound attention to detail is a strong asset.

“You need a wire brush for the tires. Tires can have tiny cuts in the rubber, and you can get soil contamination in those cuts, so you’ve got to wire-brush the tire to remove any soil particles,” said Aspinall.

A full cleaning, he noted, can take up to a week-and-a-half, but while this may sound like an incredible amount of work just to be able to ship a piece of equipment to Australia, Aspinall says the margins still work.

“There are not many manufacturers in Australia, and there is a strong market for producers to upgrade what are considered older machines here,” he explained.

It can get pretty pricey if a container is found to be contaminated on the shores of Australia. “I’ve been told the worst-case scenario is that they put the thing back in the container and send it back to where it came from, at the sender’s expense,” said Aspinall.

However, both Beler and Aspinall say that, with a little preparation, all of the conditions can easily be satisfied.

“Manufacturers can meet these requirements. You just need to work it into your process right from the beginning,” stated Beler.

Manufacturers interested in exporting product to Australia are encouraged to contact Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) at (306) 787-9210 for more information.

For more information, contact:
Brenda Hawryluk, Trade Specialist, Manufacturing
Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP)
Phone: (306) 787-9335
E-mail: bhawryluk@sasktrade.sk.ca

Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
Phone: 1-800-020 504
E-mail: pr@aqis.gov.au
Website: www.daff.gov.au (Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry)

Export financing partnership crosses $10,000,000 milestone

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

An exporting tool used extensively by the agricultural sector is celebrating a major milestone.

Export financing service “nextrade finance™” has surpassed the $10 million mark for successful deal financing, and made a huge impact on the provincial economy.

nextrade finance™ provides customized financing solutions for small and medium-sized exporters in Saskatchewan. More than 50 per cent of its clients are in the agricultural commodities or agri-value sectors. That number rises even higher when agricultural manufacturing enterprises are included.

“A lot of our clients are based in rural Saskatchewan, so they don’t have a lot of exposure and trade finance options,” said Glen Millard, nextrade finance™ Executive Director. “They have difficulty working with traditional funders.”

nextrade finance™ gives small companies the ability to grow larger by providing flexible financing to cover the costs of doing business in markets outside Saskatchewan. The entity is an operating division of Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP).

“This is a big milestone for us, for the simple fact that, when we started the program two years ago, we had $1.2 million in the capital pool. The challenge then was proving that there was enough demand in the province to even utilize that first $1.2 million,” said Millard.

“In our first year, we were able to revolve that capital pool three times over. Now, two years into the program, we have revolved it almost 10-fold,” he added.

Millard says that the growing popularity of nextrade™ has exceeded his most optimistic expectations. “This past December was our biggest month. We supported over $800,000 in new export transactions in that month alone. Almost the entire capital pool was dispersed in one month. That was unheard of. To be honest, it’s two full years ahead of what we projected when we created the program.”

STEP President and CEO Dale Botting says the program has had a big impact on the province’s economy.

“The return on that $10 million is pretty obvious. That means 10 million new dollars brought into the province,” he stated.

However, Botting points out that when you start to consider how companies use that $10 million in terms of adding capacity, ramping up production and facilities, adding more employees and producing more products, the multiplier effect can be phenomenal.

“We estimate the actual return on investment is closer to $18.6 million,” he said.

That benefit is more than a statistic. It is being felt in a very real way by the clients who use the nextrade finance™ service.

In a recent client survey, Gary Zaremba, President of Precision Industries, responded, “Without the money from nextrade™, I would not have been able to expand my business as rapidly, due to the fact that the financing provided me with the capital to invest in the additional inventory required to sustain such an expansion.” David Grenier of Crown Valley Organics, another nextrade™ client, noted, “They provide the cash flow we require to satisfy our supply chain.”

Millard says nextrade finance™ is, in some ways, a victim of its own success. He feels the initiative could have an even larger impact if it had access to a larger capital pool. To that end, Botting says the agency is actively pursuing opportunities to increase the size of its capital pool.

“We are focused on expansion of our original $1.2 million capital pool to meet the demand that is clearly out there. We are working very hard with Export Development Canada, financial institutions and other organizations, and we are very confident that nextrade finance™ will further grow to keep pace with the huge demand for Saskatchewan exporters,” said Botting.

That’s good news for the Saskatchewan agricultural sector, which has been getting plenty of good mileage from the service.

For more information, contact:
Glen Millard, Executive Director
nextrade finance™
Phone: (306) 787-7936
Cellular: (306) 529-7252
Website: www.sasktrade.sk.ca

Canadian Prairie Bison expanding products and markets

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Saskatchewan-based Canadian Prairie Bison (CPB) marketing co-operative is stepping up efforts to develop new markets for bison producers with new products and a new value chain that leads to Europe.

The group, which began in 2001, is now one of the largest marketing organizations for bison and bison products in Canada.

While its meat processing is currently handled at a plant in B.C., CPB Marketing Manager Roger Provencher says the organization hopes to soon bring its slaughter business to this province. “We prefer to keep the jobs in Saskatchewan,” he said.

Provencher noted that the current bison meat market for the group’s members is heavily oriented to the United States, with approximately 95 per cent of its product going south and the balance being consumed in Canada. Some 2,600 animals were slaughtered in 2006, a number that is expected to increase by 1,000 this year. Provencher estimates the total herd in Western Canada at 250,000 bison.

“We try to give back to the producer as much of the price as we can,” said Provencher. “We are building markets continuously.”

In 2007, CPB is aggressively pursuing markets at home and abroad, looking for new retail distributors and launching new products. Agreement has been made to distribute bison meat in Germany, and Provencher says there are ongoing negotiations with three other European Union countries. In Canada, efforts are underway to develop new outlets in eastern provinces.

“Europe is willing to pay a premium for the healthier food,” Provencher stated. “We still have some education to do in eastern Canada.”

CPB is expecting to launch four new value-added products to add to their market offering within the next few months. CPB has worked closely with both the Saskatchewan Council for Community Development and Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership.

According to Provencher, the largest producers in the bison sector are running herds of 400 to 500 cows. He says the most important factor for any producer considering bison is to investigate and establish their markets.

For more information, contact:
Roger Provencher, Marketing Manager
Canadian Prairie Bison
Phone: (306) 468-2930

Prepare for 2007 at SAF Crop Production Meetings

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Farmers are now starting to prepare for the 2007 growing season.

Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF) hopes to help producers achieve their full potential with another round of its annual Crop Production Meetings.

The theme for this year’s sessions is “Pushing Production: Increasing Crop Yields and Intensities.”

David Larsen, Soil and Nutrient Management Specialist with SAF, anticipates heavy interest from producers in pushing their yield potentials in 2007, and needing to determine how best to do that and when.

Speakers at the meetings include a representative from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who will discuss how to apply a full package of inputs versus the results achieved with an empty package. The Canola Council of Canada will also be on hand to talk about pushing canola rotations.

“We’re also going to get someone to speak about biofuels at each location, and particularly to discuss their impact on crops and producers,” said Larsen.

Other topics to be addressed at the meetings include an overview of SAF services; disease, weeds, insects and soils; and how good soil moisture and high yields will affect these factors. The meetings include technical information largely targeted at agrologists and crop advisors, but they will also be of interest to producers and others in the agricultural industry.

“These are the only Crop Production Meetings for this year,” said Larsen. “We targeted the northern areas because the topics and similar conditions will work well for all of them.”

The sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, February 6 in North Battleford at the Western Development Museum; Wednesday, February 7 in Melfort at the Travelodge Inn; and Thursday, February 8 in Yorkton at the St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Centre. All meetings run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Registration costs $40 per person, and can be arranged by calling the SAF Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. Pre-registration is preferred.

For more information, contact:
David Larsen, Soil/Nutrient Management Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 694-3587
E-mail: dlarsen@agr.gov.sk.ca
Website: www.agr.gov.sk.ca

International guest to speak about monitor farms

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A visitor from New Zealand will be offering Saskatchewan producers some food for thought on an innovative concept – monitor farms.

Aaron Meikle worked for six years as a regional manager for Meat and Wool New Zealand, carrying out extension, economic and production surveys, and research and development activities.

He was born and raised on a sheep, beef and deer farm, an operation which served as the first “monitor farm” in the region in 1991. Aaron has since been involved in facilitating monitor farms across the country, overseeing their selection and operation. “I’m fortunate to have experienced monitor farming from every angle,” he stated.

Meikle will be visiting Canada to speak about the concept in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. In this province, seminars have been scheduled for the afternoons of February 10 at the Bella Vista Inn in Humboldt, and February 11 at Temple Gardens in Moose Jaw.

According to Tara Jaboeuf, Livestock Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF), monitor farms serve as a sort of “pilot project” for producers within a region to test new ideas and determine how changes in various factors might influence the performance of their operations.

“Monitor farms are set up by a group of farmers. They’re often raising the same species of animal, and their operations are usually around the same size,” Jaboeuf said.

“One of the farms is selected as a monitor farm, and almost every facet of production is closely scrutinized and observed on it. Participants monitor all of the production, the financials, the inputs, the outputs, and so on, and they get a very good base for what the cost of production is and what it takes to run that farm.”

Jaboeuf says that, over a three-year period, the group discusses major changes, decides which to implement, and “tests” them on the monitor farm to determine their impact on production and profitability.

“That’s why they call it a monitor farm, because it’s the one monitoring all of the changes, the impacts on production and finances, and how the overall operation is affected, good or bad,” she noted. “When the results are evaluated, the other producers know what to change in their operations and how to change it, or whether to make any adjustments at all.”

While the concept is relatively new to Canada, it has been in practice in New Zealand for around 15 years. Since its inception there, some 125 individual monitor farmers have passed through the program, with an estimated 20,000 farmers cumulatively involved through community groups, newsletters or field days.

Meikle says that the program continues to attract excellent community participation and interest in his country. The projected benefit to farmers has been in excess of $150 million.

The monitor farm model has applications beyond just sheep farming; however, Colleen Sawyer, the Manager of Extension and Marketing with the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board (SSDB), said her agency has been very interested in having Meikle speak in the province. The SSDB helped to arrange his Saskatchewan seminars so that producers here could have an opportunity to learn more about the monitor farm idea.

“Perhaps it’s something that we could adapt here, perhaps not, but the whole concept sounds very intriguing,” Sawyer said. “Maybe it’s something that farmers might want to pursue in Saskatchewan or in Western Canada, if we can benefit from it as much as countries like New Zealand have.”

Anyone wishing to attend the session in Humbolt or Moose Jaw can register at the door, but the SSDB would appreciate people pre-registering by calling (306) 933-5200 so that they have more accurate numbers for seating and coffee breaks.

For more information, contact:
Tara Jaboeuf, Livestock Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 933-5099

Colleen Sawyer, Manager of Extension and Marketing
Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board
Phone: (306) 933-5200

Industrial uses for plant-based oils to be explored

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Researchers, commercial developers and producers will once again be gathering in Saskatoon in late February with a focus on the growth of non-food opportunities and global initiatives relating to oilseeds.

It all happens at the Ag-West Bio Inc. Plant Bio-Industrial Oils Workshop, taking place February 27 and 28 at the Delta Bessborough Hotel.

Ag-West Bio Inc. Vice President Ron Kehrig says Saskatchewan has always been an important part of oilseed-related research and development in Canada.

“With the development of biodiesel and other bio-based production opportunities, our strength in the area of oilseeds is something we can build on,” says Kehrig. “We can begin by establishing linkages across the country and internationally.”

According to Kehrig, this annual conference has developed a real following among experts and commercial interests developing oilseed opportunities. Once again, many of them will be in Saskatoon to present their work during sessions such as “Protein-Based Plastics and Materials: New Opportunities for Meal Utilization;” “Novel Bioplastics and Composites from Natural Oils;” and “Emerging Opportunities for Natural Oil-Based Chemicals.”

Kehrig says that some of the discussions will centre around the move toward developing biofuels and new oilseed bio-refineries, as well as using different plant platforms such as Camelina and B. carinata to produce industrial oils for non-food applications.

The conference will also review the production of polyurethane foam for the car industry from plant-based oils, and the production of paints and other coatings from flax oil.

According to Kehrig, “To think globally and act locally, you have to know what is going on globally.” As such, program speakers on new oilseed initiatives are expected from Sweden, the United States and Australia, as well as from Canadian companies and research groups.

“This is a good opportunity for learning, networking and partnering,” Kehrig said. “If you want to know what’s going on, where things are headed, and how your operation or company will fit it in, this is the meeting to attend.”

The Plant Bio-Industrial Oils Workshop generally appeals to a wide spectrum of researchers, seed industry interests, commercial operators and producers. Registration for the event costs $177 for Ag-West Bio members and $195 for non-members.

The full program and registration information is available at www.agwest.sk.ca, or by calling (306) 975-1939.

For more information, contact:
Ron Kehrig, Vice President
Ag-West Bio Inc.
Phone: (306) 668-2665

Chicago Air Service Returns to Williamson

The first flights of Mesa Airlines began yesterday from Williamson County Airport. The Southern Illinoisan has more.
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