Voters OK Rend Lake Development

Voters in Franklin and Jefferson Counties gave the Rend Lake Conservancy District a green light today to pursue private sector development on leased conservancy district lands along Rend Lake.

The district approved a request for proposals earlier this year for development along the lake front. Although this was something a part of the original plans for the lake the district's board wanted to make sure the public still support it since it had been nearly 40 years since those original plans were made.

Residents supported the proposals nearly 2 to 1 according to results in the Mount Vernon Register-News.
In Jefferson County, voters answered the advisory question with 7,309 saying yes to development and 3,639 voting against. In Franklin County, 9,813 voters said yes, and 5,559 no, for a total of 17,122 voting in favor and 9,198 against.

Support Still Needed for State Park Funding

I received the following e-mail alert yesterday from our friends at ICCVB. It deals with the funding legislation passed recently for state parks and historic sites (as well as other programs).

After their passage, the Senate forwarded two bills (one to sweep dedicated funds and the other to provide funding to keep open state historic sites and state parks) to the Governor on October 7, 2008. Governor Blagojevich has 60 calendar days to take action on this legislation, would be December 6th, six days after the stated closures of the state parks and historic sites (Novemeber 30).

We have been informed that the Governor has stated he will not sign SB 1103 until he is sure the state can withstand the current economic downturn. The Pantagraph ( Bloomington - Normal area) published a story confirming this information, which you can read by clicking on the following link:

We will continue to fight for restoration of these vital funds and will keep you informed of any updates.

Please take time to call or e-mail the Governor’s office asking him to take quick action to sign this legislation You can send an email to Governor Blagojevich at, or call (312) 814-2121. You can also show your support on this issue by signing an electronic petition at

According to an Associated Press article earlier this week a spokesman for the governor said the reluctance to sign the measure was due to weakening economic conditions which might force additional cuts.

“We are reviewing our revenue forecast to ensure that we will not have to make further cuts,” Guerrero said. “It would be a shame to propose restorations and then have to rescind them if the economic climate worsens.”

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax noted that quote on his blog Monday.

I can’t believe the AP let that one go unchallenged.

So what if the governor restores the cuts and revenue tanks? What does one have to do with the other?

The General Assembly made some very specific cut restorations by using targeted skims from existing money in special state funds.

Even if the overall budget completely tanks, there will be zero impact on the legislative package approved by the General Assembly, because it didn’t rely on any General Revenue Fund money. If GRF goes down, those special funds aren’t reduced.

The problem goes beyond this one bill and the parks and historic sites currently threatened. Both systems are broke. We need a better system.

Morgan Street Overpass Opens

I haven't seen an official announcement, but the new Morgan Street Overpass crossing Interstate 57 near The Hill in Marion is open to traffic.

I've already traveled over it twice today.

Down below construction crews were laying asphalt for the off ramps from the southbound lane of I-57 to Route 13. The ramps should be open later this fall.

Meanwhile Marion's newest McDonalds opened yesterday at the old Court Street location. The owners tore down the 35-year-old original building and replaced it with a new larger structure.

On the west side crews continue to install a new exterior to Burger King and just up Halfway Road halfway to The Hill, Country Inn & Suites continues its progress.

According to the Marion Daily Republican that hotel should be open by November 15, which is the same target date for the new Pirate Pete's restaurant and family fun center locating in the Illinois Centre Mall.

Southern Illinois State Historic Sites Slashed

Southern Illinois may have been spared cuts to its state parks, but no state historic sites south of Interstate 70 will be left opened after Oct. 1.

The Rockford Register-Star provides the full list:

  • Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia: The site will close Oct. 1 but will open on a limited basis for special events. It is currently open five days per week, and had 8,414 visitors in 2007.

  • Fort de Chartres, Prairie du Rocher: The site will close Oct. 1 but will open on a limited basis for special events. It is currently open five days per week, and had 38,100 visitors in 2007.

  • Fort Kaskaskia and Pierre Menard Home, Ellis Grove: These two sites, including the campground at Fort Kaskaskia, will close Oct. 1. These sites are currently open five days per week, and had 23,086 visitors in 2007.

  • Vandalia Statehouse, Vandalia: The site will close Oct. 1 but will open on a limited basis for special events. It is currently open five days per week, and had 31,690 visitors in 2007.

Of course, it would be remiss if I didn't point out that there were already seven IHPA-owned historic sites in the region without any staff.

  • Old Slave House - Purchased in 2000, never been reopened.

  • Shawneetown Bank - State Bank of Illinois built in 1840, purchased by the state in 1946 and never been fully opened to the public.

  • Old Rose Hotel - Oldest hotel in the state. First section built in 1812 following the New Madrid Earthquakes. Now operated as a concessionaire-leased bed and breakfast.

  • Buel House - Golconda. Maintained and opened occasionally by the Pope County Historical Society.

  • Kincaid Mounds - Brookport. Only recently have we had a viewing platform, site interpretation and a parking lot.

  • Halfway Tavern - Marion County.

  • Lincoln Trail State Memorial - Lawrenceville. Monument honors Lincoln and his family when the moved into Illinois. Luckily the National Park Service which operates the George Rogers Clark Memorial across the Wabash River at Vincennes, Indiana, comes over and mows the grass. It's currently getting a $19,700 facelift.

The only sites left are Cahokia Mounds in the MetroEast which will stay open 5 days a week.

Randolph County has an unemployment rate right now of 8.4 percent last month. It doesn't need to lose another 61,000 visitors-plus that go to these historic sites, two of which pre-date the American Revolution.

Likewise Fayette County too suffers an 8.4 percent unemployment rate and could have greatly benefited from 31,000-plus visitors coming to the state's third capitol building over the next 12 months while the nation celebrates the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Ironically, while most Lincoln sites were spared, this is one that wasn't and Lincoln served as a state representative in Vandalia.

These cuts aren't surprise. We've been warned they were coming all summer.

While this is obviously political, politics aside, the decline in funding and staffing has been an issue for the last three governors.

My only question is when is the state going to start looking at alternatives. Placing chains across a gate isn't a legitimate answer. It's just another problem that needs to be overcome.

Rumored List of State Park Closings Leaked

View Larger Map

Southern Illinois appears to have been spared in the latest round of cutbacks just confirmed for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Jeff Lampe, outdoor writer for the Peoria Journal-Star and Prairie State Outdoors, just posted a list of 11 state parks set to close come November 1 due to cuts.

The list, confirmed with the agency, does not include any in Southern Illinois.

Lampe quotes the agency spokesman as saying 39 workers will be laid off. Those include:
25 site technician II, 4 rangers, 3, site assistant superintendents, 1 office associate (part-time), 3 office coordinators (2 part-time, 1 full-time), 1 site security officer (IFPE union), 1 natural resource coordinator and 1 natural resource specialist.

Previous stories, including one in the Chicago Tribune on August 3, put the targeted number at nine in a story about a $9 million announced cut in the budget of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The move will strain an already stressed system and could lead to the closing of as many as nine parks with low attendance figures, according to a source familiar with the issue.

The source said staff reductions could be fewer than 100 at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which oversees 122 parks and natural areas and has lost 734 staff positions since 2002. Park advocates say the cuts will result in the loss of 163 jobs.

Two New Restaurants Target Marion

Marion is losing one but gaining two new restaurants.

The Southern Illinoisan broke the story Sunday in the business section that long-time steakhouse Ruby Tuesday will be closing when their lease runs out this fall in the Illinois Centre Mall.

Over the last decade or so the chain has focused more on stand-alone eateries, though there is no word yet as to whether they plan to build a new restaurant in Marion.

Their space in the mall won't stay empty for long. Gourmet Chef Jim Halpin, formerly with Kokopelli and the Rend Lake Resort, has been planning his own steakhouse for the site, Halpin's Great American Chop Shop.

Mall Manager Bob Hardy told The Southern a bit about Halpin I did not know.

"He used to cook for Jerry Garcia (the late performer with The Grateful Dead rock group) and has had articles written about his work in Bon Appétit magazine."

Jim contacted me at my job with the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office a couple of months ago for some economic data about the region.

One of the surprising statistics that I found was that Williamson County residents eat out more than in surrounding counties. Maybe it's the large number of restaurants, or it may simple be due to the fact that a higher percent of county residents work and can either better afford to eat out, or don't have the time to cook at home.

The other new restaurant is another I've known about for some time, in part because it's locating about 50 feet behind my desk in the former Phar-Mor anchor store of the Illinois Centre Mall.

Pirate Pete's Family Entertainment Center promises to be a twist between a Chuck E. Cheese and a Dave and Buster's. It includes not only food, but fun, lots of it, in terms of video games and laser tag.

Like Halpin's eatery, this one will be locally owned as well. Sesser native Eugene "Ditto" Basso plans to open by mid-November.

"It's somewhat similar to Chuck E. Cheese's and Dave & Buster's, but not exactly. Our restaurant will be separate from the game room divided by a large saltwater aquarium. Chuck E. Cheese appeals mainly to children 12 and under, while Dave & Buster's is designed more for adults. We're going to try to reach a happy medium with Pirate Pete's. I've already hired a chef consultant out of Philadelphia. I will have meals that a family watching its budget can afford," Basso told the Southern.

Congratulations go out to both men.

Blog Goes Regional

Welcome to the Southern Illinois Tourism Blog, formerly the Williamson County Tourism Blog.

I started the former two years ago before joining the team at Williamson County Tourism. Now that I've moved up from one county to 22, it's time for the name to change as well.

The Board of Directors at the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office (SITDO) hired me as the new executive director of the office in May and I started Memorial Day. SITDO's main website was, but when I started to work on a new website design I discovered the was now available, so I registered it.

There's a blog on it, but my plans are to keep that one targeted towards tourists with events and news. This one will focus more on the tourism industry, with some items posted on both.

Eventually we'll have a separate website for SITDO with more information geared towards the tourism industry here in Southern Illinois which is growing tremendously in some areas.

Region's Beaches Ready for Summer

It's a long way to the beaches in Florida, but Southern Illinois has some great ones right in our back yards.

Some of them like Sandusky Beach at Rend Lake and the public beach at Pounds Hollow Lake in the Shawnee National Forest. Others will open Memorial Day weekend.

Cedar Lake - Poplar Camp Beach (Jackson County) south of Carbondale opens Friday, May 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

State certified lifeguards are on duty during beach open hours. Admission is $2 per person with children under four admitted free. The beach and lake are operated by the City of Carbondale. Passes are available for 10 visits for $15 and 20 visits for $25. Passes are good for the entire esason and can be used by anyone at anytime.

For information on beach closings, call 618-549-8441 or 618-549-5302. Alcoholic beverages, glass containers and fires are prohibited at the beach.

Crab Orchard Lake (Williamson County) - The beach at Crab Orchard Campground will open for the season on May 26. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There is a lifeguard present. Admission is $2 per person per day. No alcoholic beverages or glass bottles permitted. For more information contact the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at 618-997-3344.

Lake Glendale (Pope County) - The beach at Lake Glendale opens May 24 with hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Lifeguards are present. Admission is $3.50 for persons 6 and over and $2.50 or persons 5 and under. The admission is for the entire day and swimmers may come and go. No alcohol or glass bottles permitted. The lake and beach is part of the Shawnee National Forest.

The concessionaire at Lake Glendale also offers paddle boat and canoe rentals.

Pounds Hollow Lake (Gallatin County) - This is a free day-use area in the Shawnee National Forest. The beach is open during daylight hours. No lifeguards are provided.

Rend Lake - Sandusky Beach is currently the only beach open at Rend Lake from 8 a.m. to sunset.

No lifeguards are on duty though. Admission is $1 per person up to $4 per vehicle (per day). Children 12 and under are admitted free. No alcohol or glass bottles permitted. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sam Dale Lake (Wayne County) is part of the Sam Dale Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area that's open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

The swimming area is a buoy-marked area with a large beach area for sun-bathers. No life guards present. Swimmers under 17 must be accompanied by an adult. No alcohol allowed.

Celebrate National Tourism Week at the Pavilion

We're celebrating National Tourism Week this week May 10 through May 18, with an open house, business after-hours event this Thursday afternoon, May 15, from 4 to 7 p.m. here at the Williamson County Pavilion located at 1602 Sioux Drive behind the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

From our news release:
"What do wedding receptions, concerts and an AKC dog show have in common? Not only are they forms of tourism, but they’re all events held at the Pavilion this year,” explained Jon Musgrave, executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, which also manages the Pavilion.

“It’s hard to find such a variety of events in one place,” Events Coordinator Cherri Flinn said. “The Pavilion is a rare commodity with its 54,000 square feet of space and an Expo Hall that can hold 4,000 people.”

This Thursday the public is invited to the Pavilion’s first Business After Hours which is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Guests will be treated to free appetizers, drinks and personal tours of the facility.

Organizers say the event will be a great way to spread the word not only about tourism’s impact on the region but also what is offered at the Pavilion.

“This is an opportunity to let the community come in and see what services we offer,” Williamson County Tourism Marketing Director Nic Skovgaard said. “The Pavilion is unique just from the simple fact we can go from MMA cage fights to a cheerleading competition to a cat and dog show – and sometimes the set up happens overnight.”

Since the Pavilion opened in 2004 it has been host to hundreds of events – business meetings, celebrity fundraising events, proms, outdoor shows and even Mixed Martial Arts cage fighting.

“Tourists spend an incredible amount of money in Southern Illinois. Right at $450 million in 2006 in the 17th southernmost counties from I-64 south,” explained Musgrave. “All that money helped finance a payroll of $95 million and 4,050 jobs. That makes quite an impact.”

In Williamson County the biggest projects over the last few years have been Rent One Park and the Williamson County Pavilion.

The ballpark attracted a quarter million visitors to Marion last year and the Pavilion drew more than 54,000 visitors through its doors spread over 347 bookings.

“Both attendance and bookings were up more than 121 percent last year and the first three months of this year saw another 67 percent increase in attendance,” said Musgrave.

Larger crowds at the Southern Illinois Boat and Fishing Show and the Spring Home Show were two reasons he said, as well as a new gun and knife show.

In terms of lodging, Williamson County has seen new cabins or bed and breakfast inns open or expand in Herrin, Johnston City and Marion with another one soon to open in Hurst. This spring developers of a new Country Inn & Suites broke ground on a new 67-unit hotel below the Hill near Exit 54A. Another hotel and two more major restaurants are expected to follow later this year.

Besides the dog show, other upcoming events at the Pavilion include Drifters in concert also in June, a cat show in July, and the Colgate Country Showdown Illinois State Finals in September.

Herrinfesta Offers Opportunities to Help

The Herrin Civic Center is looking for help during Herrinfesta Italiana and Memorial Day weekend:
If you would like to support the Herrin Civic Center and the HBBA, please contact Ed Schullian at 727-0245 or the Herrin Civic Center at 942-6115. Also, anyone who can donate cakes, pies, cookies or some type of dessert to sell, it would be much appreciated. They can be dropped off at the Civic Center Friday, May 23, 2008 after the prayer breakfast. We appreciate your help and support of the Civic Center and Herrin Festa Italiana.

HerrinFesta Italiana Gearing Up for Later This Month

The HerrinFesta Italiana is a five day festival every Memorial Day week-end that celebrates the heritage of Herrin, a Southern Illinois community. The festival provides a sense of community spirit, as well as a homecoming for former residents and a welcome to thousands of travelers from all over the Midwest. This year the HerrinFesta Italiana dates are Thursday, May 22-Monday, May 26.

One of the largest and best known festivals in the state, the HerrinFesta Italiana has always brought top notch entertainment to the Heartland. The festival has featured such top names as The Dixie Chicks, the year they won Female Country Vocal of the Year. Other Country Stars have also appeared including Herrin's own David Lee Murphy, and Phil Vassar.

Entertainment groups have included everything from Jazz, Blues and Folk to Rock, Funk, Country and Zydeco.

This year is no different as sixteen top musical groups from all over the midwest are scheduled to appear. Thursday night features The Hairbangers Ball a Chicago group doing musical memories from the 80's. Friday night and Saturday night will highlight "Monsters of Rock", Danny Seraphine (formerly with Chicago) and California Transit Authority on Friday and John Waite on Saturday.

Also on Saturday's "Parrot Head" afternoon Doyle Grisham a member of the Jimmy Buffet Band will make a special appearance with the Boat Drunks. Jake Owen is featured on Country Sunday. Jake was nominated for Top Male Vocalist of the Year this year. The festival culminates on Monday night with the popular LoCash cowboys.

Top entertainment is not the only activity at the Festa. There is an authentic Italian food and beverage garden. A wine garden. A clean friendly carnival. An arts and crafts show. A parade, beauty pageant, and children's activities. A live video telecast direct from Italy of Mandolinisti Bustesi a famous Italian orchestra performing seven Italian Operatic selections will be included in Sunday's activities.

This year The Incredible Hulk will make an appearance on Saturday. A Saturday car show features many custom vehicles.

There are also bocce, volleyball, and golf tournaments, road races and special Italian contests. The HerrinFesta Italiana has always included something for the entire family.

For additional information visit the website at or call the information hotline at 1-800-IT-FESTA.

Carterville Farmers Market to Start in June

The Farmers Market in Carterville will operate on Friday afternoons this summer beginning June 6 at the First Baptist Church parking lot. Hours are 3 to 6 p.m.

Booth costs for vendors are just $5. Persons interested can contact the Carterville Chamber of Commerce office at 985-6942.

Lodging Election Kicks Off

The spring lodging election for representatives on the Board of Directors of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau kicked off today.

WCTB Board Secretary Judy Attebury and I opened the nominations that came into the office last month. The following were nominated and will appear on the ballot:
  • James Baker, manager of America’s Best Inn
  • Anna Bordenave, co-owner of Oakridge Manor Bed and Breakfast
  • Barb Lomax, Barb Lomax, manager of Hampton Inn
  • Ashok Patel, co-owner of America’s Best Inn
  • Robert Toupal, former owner of Toupal’s Country Inn

Ann Hindman and Greg Triplett were also nominated, but since they are already on the board as lodging representatives and their terms are not up they will not be listed on the ballot.

All lodging facilities in Williamson County who are current on their county bed tax will receive ballots. A check was made this afternoon. Ballots will go into the mail tomorrow morning and are due back in the office by May 27, 2008.

The ballots will be opened during the regular board meeting scheduled for noon on May 28, 2008. The new terms begin at the June meeting.

Two seats are up this year among the seven lodging representatives on the 19-member board. Those two seats are currently filled by Anna Bordenave and Barb Lomax.

Libraries and Museums Offer Gems for Genealogists

With Memorial Day coming up next month and ever warming days, genealogists can now get out for those fun family history research trips.

The Williamson County Historical Society operates a great research library in their Jail Museum at 105 S. Van Buren Street in Marion.

They are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays, as well as open until 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. Tours of the museum are given on Thursdays with the last tour starting at 2 p.m.

In Herrin the expanded city library has developed a great local history room under the guidance of retired high school librarian Linda Banks. The library honored her last Sunday by naming the room the after her.

The Herrin City Library is located at 120 N. 13th St., one block east of Park Avenue which is Route 148.

The Frankfort Area Genealogy Society also operates another major local research library in the old Logan School in Frankfort Heights on the east side of West Frankfort at 2000 E. St. Louis St.

It's open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Although located in Franklin County this museum and library includes a lot of information about Williamson County, particularly the north portion the county. Historically, Williamson County was a part of Franklin from 1818 to 1839.

The genealogical collection of the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois is available for researchers at the John A. Logan College library in Carterville.

Other good sites for research include the following:
  • Morris Library, SIU-Carbondale
  • Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD), Carbondale
  • Saline County Genealogy Society's Library, Harrisburg City Hall (open weekday mornings)

Bald Knob Cross Meeting Set for Tuesday

A public meeting is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow (April 15) in Alto Pass where an engineer from E.T. Simonds Co. will release a report on the structural integrity of the interior of Bald Knob Cross.

The report will be made during the regular monthly meeting of the Friends of the Cross group.

Last month the Southern Illinoisan quoted the group's president, Bill Vandergraph, passing along the initial reaction of the engineer.
"He says it's considerably worse that what most people say," Vandergraph said, adding that cost estimates and specifics had not yet been given.

The Alto Pass Civic Center is located at 19 Elm Street in Alto Pass.

Bucky Covington Rocks the Pavilion

Rising country music star Bucky Covington proved his idol status last night at his concert in Marion at the Williamson County Pavilion.

Covington performed along with opening act South 70 out of Atlanta.

Tonight Keith Anderson, Chris Young and the Lost Trailers are performing at the Pavilion in their "Raisin' the Bar" tour.

Another night of concerts is scheduled for Friday, April 25, featuring three rising Nashville acts — Smokey Lonesome, Mammoth Jack and Cole Prather.

Tickets can be purchased at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson here in Marion or online using the "Buy Tickets Now" button below.

Public Meeting Set for Rend Lake Issues

Just received this news release this afternoon:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rend Lake has announced plans to host a public workshop to discuss the changes that will be implemented in the operation of the Corps of Engineers managed areas at Rend Lake during the 2008 recreation season.

The meeting will be held at the Rend Lake Visitor Center on Saturday, April 12, 2008 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. The informational workshop will provide individuals with lake information for the 2008 recreation season and provide the public with the opportunity to ask question of the Corps about area closings and reduced services that will be in effect at Rend Lake.

For more information feel free to contact the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493.

These meetings are in response to the budget cutbacks and the effects on the upcoming summer recreation season.

Birding Fest Set for Later This Month

The 7th Annual Birding Fest is scheduled later this month on April 25-27, down in the Cache River Basin with guided tours, mini-workshops and a host of other activities throughout the weekend.

A Birding Blitz is scheduled for Friday and programs will take place throughout the weekend at the Cache River Wetlands Center located on Route 37 in southeastern Johnson County.

Activities include guided canoe tours, birding hikes, live bird demonstrations, wildlife photo exhibits and "much more."

For more information check out their website at

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Southern Illinois Audubon Society, Friends of the Cache River Watershed, The Nature Conservancy, Shawnee Audubon Society and Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau.

Country Inn & Suites Breaks Ground

Jim Zeller, owner of Zeller Construction and the new Country Inn & Suites coming to Marion this fall broke ground yesterday at the site of the hotel on Halfway Road about halfway between Route 13 and The Hill.

Yours truly was there along with other city officials and members of the Marion Chamber of Commerce.

The heavy rains this spring haven't helped the construction season. Zeller said he's likely to move the opening date until sometime in November for his new three-story 66-room hotel.

The new lodging facility will be located at 1306 N Halfway Rd north of America's Best Inns and south of 17th Street Bar & Grill.

For more on the plans check out this article from the announcement of the hotel back in February.

Update on New Golf Trail Idea

Representatives from the proposed Abraham Lincoln Golf Trail met with pros from the top courses in Southern Illinois yesterday at Rend Lake. The goal was to brief them about the trail idea as well as to secure their buy-in with the program.

The Southern's Karen Binder has more...
"Northern Illinois goes to Alabama, Florida and South Carolina," Granberg said. "If this works we can expand this to become whatever we want it to become. We want to tie in with wine trail, state lodges, restaurants and everything else. This is about economic development."

...The idea is to make the Web site a virtual office for the trail, allowing golfers to make tee times, lodging reservations, learn about other area attractions, see course layouts, check out golf packages and even eye the weather forecast.

Todd Ely, a Springfield economic development consultant, said targeted marketing and advertising, such as billboards and article placement in golf publications, would drive golf traffic to the site.

From the site, "we want to cross-promote everyone," Ely added.

Check out the entire article on the Southern Illinoisan's website.

Regina-Based Venture Uncaps Gluten-Free "Beer"

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A Regina-based company owned by over 200 Western Canadian seed growers is providing an alternative alcoholic beverage to people with celiac disease and wheat allergies.

Nubru Gluten Free, developed by FarmPure Beverages, is about to sell out of its first 6,000 cases of product that have been tested in the Manitoba market.

FarmPure uses an innovative, patented process. "We're making a clear, neutral concentrate out of protein sources, such as peas and soybeans," said Chief Operating Officer Carl Flis. "From that concentrate, we can do two things - we can formulate it to taste like any beer in the world, make coolers, wine coolers and fruit coolers; or we can license that technology out to existing breweries." FarmPure Beverages plans to pursue both options.

FarmPure Beverages production innovation will be attractive for other breweries. "By implementing the technology, they can reduce their production costs significantly, because we're reducing the traditional brewing time, which is 21 to 28 days, down to nine to 11 days," Flis said. "An existing brewery can increase the production of their plant without any capital investment."

The first test with FarmPure Beverages' own product line was the Nubru blend, which was a 50/50 blend of FarmPure's product and Fort Garry Lager. The advantages of blending are that it reduces costs and improves the head of the beer.

Since the original Nubru blend, FarmPure Beverages has developed the Nubru Gluten Free beverage, which is currently being distributed in the Manitoba marketplace. Upcoming products include Nubru Red, which is similar to Rickard's Red, and a cider.

The gluten-free market of food and beverage products promises growth. According to Flis, celiac disease is the fastest growing diagnosed disease in North America. An estimated one in 133 has the disease. "We're not there to build breweries around the world. It's a specialty market, and celiac patients and people with wheat allergies are looking for alternatives."

Although the target market for the Nubru line is people with celiac disease and other digestive disorders, the product has broader appeal. In its first round of market testing, Nubru was rated on par or better than traditional light beers. It scored especially well with the young female segment of the market.

FarmPure Beverages has an ambitious plan for the distribution of its products, but first, it will strive for brand recognition. "It's a new technology where the possible products we can generate are endless. At this stage, it's getting the first concepts out there, getting the name known, and then we can start further product development," Flis said.

Next, they plan to expand into Ontario and Quebec, then British Columbia. Europe already has a number of gluten-free products, based on rice and millet, using traditional brewing processes. Breweries there have tried to emulate the traditional European beer tastes.

The Nubru products have a North American taste. The market is attractive to FarmPure Beverages because there are fewer competitors. Flis names a Quebec-based company and Budweiser, with a product called Red Ridge, as the two main rivals.

"If Budweiser is getting into the market, I think we're on the right track," he said.

For more information, contact:
Carl Flis, Chief Operating Officer
FarmPure Foods
Phone: (306) 757-3663, ext. 111

Tricks of the Trade When Marketing Riding Horses

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

As the snow melts off the Prairies, many horse enthusiasts are turning their thoughts to the upcoming riding season. Equine enthusiasts from all disciplines and competitive levels will be marketing their animals to meet the needs of prospective buyers.

Adrienne Hanson, a Livestock Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, says regardless of the training level, breed, discipline or pedigree of the animal, there are a few tips that will make the acquisition process smoother for both buyers and sellers.

"There are many websites and newspapers specializing in marketing horses that can maximize exposure to a specific target audience in an effective manner," Hanson noted.

The advertisement should be concise and accurate, outlining the horse's skills, ability, temperament, achievements and pedigree. "Potential purchasers will appreciate an honest and accurate assessment of the animal," she said.

Sellers will need to determine their asking price and tell buyers up front if they are willing to negotiate. Sellers should ensure they list a telephone number or Internet address at which they are readily accessible, and be available for questions or to co-ordinate viewing appointments.

Hanson says it is important that the buyers determine what they want and need in the horse. Assess the animal through e-mail and phone calls to define what is required in terms of purpose, breed, pedigree, training, temperament and price, prior to travelling for viewing and negotiations. The prospective purchaser should inspect the horse carefully and, in some circumstances, may want to arrange a pre-sale veterinary inspection for a full inventory of the horse's physical condition.

If the animal is not appropriate for the buyer's purposes at first glance, or if the mount appears ill or unsafe, the prospective purchaser should politely thank the seller and depart. "In most cases, the seller will respect your consideration in saving their time," Hanson said.

"The bottom line when buying or selling a horse is that honesty and openness is important, as in any arrangement where an item or service is being purchased," Hanson said. "The sellers maintain their professional reputation by properly presenting an animal for sale, and the purchasers obtain an optimal product to use and enjoy."

For more information, contact:
Adrienne Hanson, Livestock Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 848-2380

Barrel Racing and Pole Bending Clinic to Cultivate Skills

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

With rodeo season fast approaching, young barrel racers and pole benders will have an opportunity to fine-tune their preparations by participating in a clinic to be held in Fort Qu'Appelle on March 22 and 23.

The clinic, hosted by Clearview Stables, will be led by Kelley Byrne, a professional rider, with the assistance of Gloria Kadlec, who serves on the boards of the Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association and the Saskatchewan High School Rodeo Association.

Although barrel racing is an event familiar to rodeo patrons, pole bending is restricted to high school and collegiate rodeos. The course setup has six poles spaced 21 feet apart. Like barrel racing, it is a timed event that begins with a sprint to the end, then a turnaround to weave through the poles, turn 180 degrees, another weaving sequence, ending with a final sprint to the timer line. Time penalties are applied for knocking over a pole.

Good horsemanship is the foundation of both barrel racing and pole bending. The clinic will develop the participants' horsemanship skills to facilitate agile movements. "The next level is to make a proper turn to come in and out of a barrel. The same goes for the poles, to get the horse to move off their legs without having a whole lot of face contact," Kadlec said.

Training and skill development are beneficial to a rider's success, but so are the unique characteristics of the horse. Speed and the ability to make a quick turn on its haunches are important. "You also want a horse that's going to listen and not fight with you," Kadlec noted, adding that the most successful barrel racing horses are level-headed.

The participants in the clinic are most likely to be teenagers. Racers typically start out during their teen years, although the activity certainly appeals to all ages. According to Kadlec, adults also attend clinics, but they are more likely to seek training in basic horsemanship clinics before progressing to a racing clinic. "You have to have horsemanship to be able to compete at that faster level," she stated.

Barrel racing also accommodates horses of varying age. Four and five year-old horses compete in futurity events, while top competitive horses range in age from 10 to 15 years.

Those who attend the Fort Qu'Appelle clinic will really benefit from the wisdom of an experienced professional like Kelley Byrne, Kadlec says. Byrne rides with the Canadian Professional Rodeo

Association and the Canadian Cowboys' Association circuit. She is also involved with the

Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association, hosting and attending many jackpots around the province.

Anyone interested in participating in the two-day event should contact Gloria Kadlec or Kevin Smith at Clearview Stables. Stalls are available to board the horses overnight, and lunch will be provided. The cost to attend will be $150 to $200, depending on the level of participation.

For more information, contact:
Gloria Kadlec, Assistant Clinician
Phone: (306) 567-4295

Kevin Smith, Barn Manager
Clearview Stables
Phone: (306) 332-1332

Cow Horseman Impresses Across The Continent

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Cow horseman competitions are growing in popularity, largely because crowds are fascinated by watching a horse and rider work a cow in patterns and maneuvers.

Saskatchewan has one of the best in the business in Dale Clearwater of Hanley. At a competition in Stephenville, Texas this February, Clearwater earned top honours and over $17,000 for his efforts.

Clearwater was raised on a farm near Nipawin. At the age of 16, he began a career riding in pastures for eight years. Because pasture work is seasonal, during the winter he went to Alberta to work for horse trainers. In 2002, he spent a year working with a cow horse trainer before returning to Saskatchewan in 2004 to venture out on his own.

Clearwater has traveled North America with cow horse competitions. He entered his first show in 2001. Since then, he has earned approximately $100,000 from both cow horse and cutting competitions.

Critical to the success of cow horse showmen is a solid understanding of animals. Clearwater gained much of his knowledge from working in pastures. "I think being a good showman involves being able to do the cowboying end of things and working with animals all day," he said. "It makes you a better showman, because you understand how the cattle and horses think."

Saskatchewan riders will soon have an opportunity to learn from Clearwater's expertise. The Sandhills Stable near Saskatoon is hosting a Working Cow Clinic on March 29 and 30, with a repeat clinic on April 26 and 27.

These workshops will help participants prepare for cow horse shows and competitions. Rein work components include lead changes, stops and turnarounds. In addition, attendees will practice working cows down the fence and circling.

Bonnie DeWitt of Sandhills Stable expects participants to represent a mix of people, with some simply wanting an introduction to the sport, while more experienced competitors will be looking for tips and skill development.

Demand for cow horse training is increasing. The clinics Clearwater has held over the past two years have all sold out. While the March offering is already full, DeWitt says there are still a few spots open at the April workshop if prospective participants hurry.

Upon starting a clinic, it takes Clearwater very little time to earn the respect of any doubters, given the amazing ease with which he is able to move cattle.

"When you put a good run together, nothing feels as good as that," Clearwater said. At the competition in Texas, everything went perfectly for him, "but it can go the other way, too. You're humbled and you go home and work harder," he noted.

For now, Clearwater will enjoy his success, and enjoy teaching his skills to others interested in the practice.

For more information, contact:
Dale Clearwater, Clinician
Phone: (306) 544-2421

Bonnie DeWitt, Operator
Sandhills Stable
Phone: (306) 477-3508

Ukrainian Ag Entrepreneurs Seek Solutions In Saskatchewan

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

With the world's population on the rise, countries that export agricultural goods will become essential to meeting the increasing global demand for food. That reality applies to Canada, and it also applies to another country with which Canada has many connections: Ukraine.

"Ukraine is one of a few places on earth where real potential for significant increase of agricultural output exists," said Paul Ivanicky, a Ukrainian entrepreneur visiting the province. "There is almost everything to achieve it - wonderful soils, well-trained specialists, a large labour force and growing world demand for food."

Ivanicky and his counterpart Maxim Zakharov represent Kiev Atlantic Ukraine, a joint stock company with foreign investments. The pair recently came to Saskatchewan hoping to create long-term business contacts to expand their farming operation and agribusiness located just outside the Ukrainian capital.

Their efforts have taken them to universities, livestock operations, slaughter plants and abattoirs. So far, they have been overwhelmed by the positive results of their outreach to develop partnerships with industry and adopt Western agricultural production practices, innovations and technology.

"We cannot believe the hospitality of the people here and the willingness of others to help us," Zakharov said. "We have had countless offers from organizations and professionals to come over and assist us with our livestock operation, as well as our newest venture into the beef slaughter and processing sector. It's unbelievable!"

Part of the warm reception the entrepreneurs have enjoyed may be attributable to the strong ties that exist between Saskatchewan and their home country. Many of the province's citizens have some Ukrainian ancestry in their backgrounds.

However, according to Wendell Ebbert, a Livestock Development Specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, when it comes to agriculture, Ukraine is also a nation with considerable opportunity and positive potential.

"With over 42 million hectares of arable land, a European-type climate with 24 inches of annual rainfall, and 180 frost-free growing days, Ukraine will be a major land of agricultural opportunity," Ebbert said. "Twenty-five per cent of the world's richest black soil and 27 per cent of Europe's tilled soil are found in Ukraine."

The agricultural sector represents about 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, and is viewed by many as one of the brightest prospects for Western trade and investment.

In addition, the country is situated within 2,000 miles of a billion people, three-quarters of whom do not produce sufficient food to feed themselves.

"The world will look to Ukraine to solve a variety of its feed, food and fuel problems, and agricultural production will play a monumental role," Ebbert said.

Livestock inventories in the country have increased on a small scale since 1991 on a few private farms, although a rapid recovery in beef production as a whole remains uncertain. The Ukrainian cattle herd is comprised mainly of dairy breeds, with a small share of dual-purpose animals and meat breeds.

The poultry sector of the livestock industry is the most likely to grow first - since it offers producers the quickest return on their investment - followed by hogs, and then cattle.

In order for the company to achieve its full potential, Kiev Atlantic Ukraine will need to improve the consistency and quality of the beef it produces. They are investigating the possible use of the antibiotics and growth hormones common in American and Canadian beef production but which are not generally accepted in Europe. The company is also considering castrating bull calves - another North American practice that is uncommon in Europe - to reduce animal handling stress and eliminate dark cutters in the carcass.

The Ukrainian agricultural community is researching alternative methods to increase productivity, efficiency and overall quality of the country's beef. Given the province's existing connection with Ukraine, this may present some real opportunities for Saskatchewan agricultural entrepreneurs.

For more information, contact:
Wendell Ebbert, Livestock Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 878-8847

Grazing Mentors Are In Demand

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Producers interested in improving their grazing management are urged to sign up for this year's "Grazing Mentorship Program." The program is operated by the Saskatchewan Forage Council with funding from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

"The program is designed to hook grazing mentors up with individuals who are looking to take their grazing management to the next level, or even just the first level," said provincial co-ordinator Ross MacDonald. "It's a means of co-ordinating peer-to-peer grazing information and mentorship."

The idea is to allow individual producers to work one-on-one with experienced grazing managers in order to learn how to improve their profits, efficiency, forage productivity, and use of water and land resources.

"We have a number of grazing mentors across the province, so there's likely a mentor nearby," MacDonald said. "The majority of our mentors are quite experienced. A lot of them have dealt with intensive grazing, grazing large numbers of animals, grazing late into the winter season with both stockpiled forages and bale grazing, as well as alternative supply methods."

The program is partially subsidized, so producers pay only a fraction of the actual cost. Producers are asked to pay a $100 application fee, and the program kicks in an additional $600 to pay the mentor for his or her time.

"It is equivalent to about 16 hours, or two days, of mentoring. Depending on the individual's needs, those 16 hours can be split up however the two participants feel will work best," MacDonald said.

"Usually there is an initial visit, some discussion about where each is at, some things to think about, some correspondence in between, and possibly another meeting in the field season."

The discussion can range right across the grazing management spectrum, including fencing, watering systems, plant growth, forage species selection, dormant season grazing - just about anything a producer might have questions about. There is no limitation on the size of operation that can become involved.

"We've had a range of mentorships, from individuals who are just getting started with small numbers and smaller land bases, to those who are going from a small operation to a larger operation," MacDonald said. "Mentors say they sometimes learn as much as they teach when dealing with more experienced operators."

There are currently 12 mentors available in the province, with space for approximately 55 producers to receive their assistance, so it is advisable to sign up as soon as possible. Interested producers should contact the Saskatchewan Forage Council by visiting their website at, or by calling MacDonald directly at (306) 447-4600.

MacDonald is an animal and range agrologist who is also an active rancher, running a herd of some 400 custom-grazed yearlings and a small cow-calf herd. He says the mentorship program is just a case of well-organized networking with peers.

"The intent is not necessarily to prescribe any sort of management, but to provide a producer sounding-board for ideas or innovations, and hopefully to save people some mistakes and some time," he said.

"If nothing else, it's a great opportunity to get some outside ideas or just confirmation that you're on the right track."

For more information, contact:
Ross MacDonald, Co-ordinator
Grazing Mentorship Program
Phone: (306) 447-4600

Value Chain Development Brings Western Provinces Together

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Efforts to develop agri-food value chains are growing from a single province base to be delivered right across western Canada, with a new agreement between provinces.

"The Saskatchewan Agri-Food Value Chain Initiative was developed approximately seven years ago, originally funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada," says Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan (ACS) Value Chain Specialist Bryan Kosteroski. "Three years ago, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and ACS developed the second phase of the program, which was co-funded by both levels of government."

The program delivered an educational awareness program built around learning modules on subjects such as value chain development, marketing strategies, marketing intelligence, and category management. According to Kosteroski, the program has been well received here.

"Those workshops were very well attended, with over 400 people participating over a period of about 16 months," he says. "We have 14 value chain projects either in the process of development or completed in Saskatchewan. Alberta also has a value chain program, and Manitoba just started one last December."

The new Western Canadian Value Chain Initiative arose out of discussions between representatives of the four western provinces and the federal government.

"It was decided that there should be a consistent message across western Canada," Kosteroski says. "We are interested in creating awareness of the program itself, and the various strategies being employed by the agri-food industry. Many of the concepts are about working together in areas like talking to retail buyers, developing category plans, and communicating throughout the sector to make sure producers know what's going on."

The information developed on value chains will now have consistent content and the same look across the west, with the joint effort resulting in new material being made available in Saskatchewan.

"We have just launched an Internet marketing program," says Kosteroski. "Our companies have to take a look at website development, what suits their products, and the customers they are trying to attract. We just completed some organic livestock and vegetable workshops. It gives them more awareness of what potential markets may exist for them both domestically and for export."

The new co-operation between the provinces and federal government is a sign of the growing importance of this sector.

"You have small, medium, and large companies that are becoming players in the agri-food industry in Canada, and it's not an easy game," says Kosteroski. "It takes time to get into the retail markets, up to 16 months to get a product listed and on the shelf. Producers and companies have to be prepared to work through the process, to tweak their ideas to accommodate the needs of the retailer."

Among the new workshops to be offered in the next year, there will be an emphasis on marketing education, which is seen as a knowledge gap for emerging agri-food companies.

Anyone interested in what the Western Canadian Value Chain Initiative has to offer can get that information from the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan on their website at

For more information, contact:
Bryan Kosteroski, Value Chain Specialist
Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306)975-6851

2008 Grasshopper Forecast Shows Few Pockets of Concern

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

It appears that most of Saskatchewan should be relatively safe from major grasshopper infestations for 2008, although there are some pockets of concern around the province.

That's the prognosis contained in the "2008 Grasshopper Forecast" compiled by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with Saskatchewan Crop Insurance.

The forecast, along with a corresponding colour-coded map showing the projected infestation risk across the province, has now been posted on the ministry's website at

"Overall, it looks like the majority of the province falls into the ‘none to very light' category, where the grasshopper population should not be a problem," said Dale Risula, the Integrated Crop Management Systems Specialist with the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Moose Jaw.

"There are a few isolated regions that have the potential for large populations of grasshoppers in 2008, but those are very small, particular areas," he added. "It appears that there may be three or four specific zones that could encounter some difficulties."

The forecast is based on the adult grasshopper counts observed during August and early September 2007 by Saskatchewan Crop Insurance field staff. The survey includes more than 1,100 sites throughout the province. The forecast is based on adult grasshoppers capable of reproduction. This provides an estimate of the number of eggs that may hatch the following spring and present a risk to crops in 2008.

"The forecast is not an absolute certainty," Risula noted. "It is just to say what the probability or the foundation is for grasshopper numbers in the upcoming growing season."

The primary factor determining actual grasshopper numbers will be the weather next spring.

"The hatch in the springtime is going to depend on growing degree days, which is a measure of accumulated heat units. If it's a dry, warm spring and the soil heats up fairly significantly, you could see an increase in the hatch numbers that take place. If it's a cold, wet spring, you will probably see populations kept at bay."

Populations can be affected by several other factors, including the presence of predatory insects, as well as the incidence of disease.

According to Risula, just about every crop grown in Saskatchewan is at some degree of risk from grasshopper damage. With cereals, grasshoppers generally consume the leaf material, which reduces the photosynthetic ability of the plant. With crops like lentil or flax, they usually attack the pods or bolls, which directly impacts yield.

In other crops such as canola, mustard or pea, grasshoppers may present an additional problem. "If they are present when the crop is being combined, their body parts can get picked up in the harvest and contaminate the sample, lowering the seed quality and requiring further processing," Risula said.

"Even in those areas where projections are low, producers would be well-served keeping a close eye on the situation, since infestations can vary widely on a field-by-field basis."

More information and advice on grasshopper projections and control methods can be found on the Saskatchewan Agriculture website or by calling the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

For more information, contact:
Dale Risula, Integrated Cropping Management Systems Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 694-3714

Forage Selection Made Easy With New CD

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The Saskatchewan Forage Council (SFC) has developed a new forage management tool that is available free of charge to producers, agrologists, conservationists and any other interested parties.

The "Dryland Forage Species Adaptation" CD provides valuable technical information to assist in planning the use of forages.

According to SFC Executive Director Janice Bruynooghe, the CD was developed to assist users in selecting the forage species best suited to their land. "It's an interactive tool that enables them to access comprehensive data on different forage species in order to choose the best one for their particular needs."

Information on 45 forage species, both tame and native, legume and grass, has been compiled in the CD. Photos and a detailed description of each species are provided, including yields, recommended stocking rates and other management information.

The data is organized to allow producers to input specific factors related to the type of soil in which the forage will be seeded and the purpose for which it is intended. This may include soil zone, soil texture, soil pH, salinity, moisture conditions, desired use, expected timing of use, stand longevity and many other variables.

"They can basically enter their criteria, and this tool will sort through the huge database of information that's built in on the back-end and identify the species that would best suit their specific conditions," Bruynooghe said.

The tool can also be used in reverse. Users looking for information on any particular forage species can simply click on its name, and the CD will display all the details, including an overview of nutritional feed quality, if available.

According to Bruynooghe, among the most useful features incorporated in the CD are seeding rate and cost calculators for producers. Users are able to select specific forage species or mixtures and input information such as germination or purity percentages. A program then automatically calculates the number of pounds per acre they would need to seed in order to produce an optimal stand. When costs are subsequently entered, the tool will also calculate the cost-per-acre of seeding a specific mixture.

"It's a common question that producers often have. Working through those calculations [on paper] is a bit cumbersome at times, and this is just a really slick, quick way to go in and determine seeding rates and cost-per-acre," Bruynooghe said.

"Everything comes down to economics, and a key to this information is that it can help producers through that decision-making process on the financial side."

Above all, Bruynooghe says the greatest advantage offered by the CD is convenience. "Much of this information is currently available, but it is very scattered. Producers often have to talk to extension agrologists or cross-reference many fact sheets to get what they need," she stated.

"What this tool provides is a nice, neat compilation of information. It's very user-friendly and easy to navigate."

Funding to undertake the project was provided by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Greencover Canada Program. Project partners include AAFC, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation.

Anyone interested in obtaining a free copy of the "Dryland Forage Species Adaptation" CD can contact the SFC by phone at (306) 966-2148 or by e-mail at The material is also available on the SFC website at in both high-speed and dial-up versions.

For more information, contact:
Janice Bruynooghe, Executive Director
Saskatchewan Forage Council
Phone : (306) 966-2148
E-mail :

Agri-Tourism Answers Demand for Real-Life Experiences

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A group of farm buildings and a herd of cattle may look pretty ordinary to Saskatchewan residents, but they could be a tourist gold mine, according to Claude-Jean Harel.

Harel should know. He's the owner of Great Excursions of Regina, and a specialist in agri-tourism development.

"The time has never been better to look at agri-tourism opportunities," Harel said. "People are realizing the value of locally grown products. Behind every product there is a story, and authenticity is key."

Harel has been in the industry since 1998, beginning his company by showcasing Saskatchewan destinations and since expanding to offer experiences right across Canada.

"Our offerings in Saskatchewan are centred around authentic activities, like stays on guest ranches where people raise livestock and are willing to share that experience with guests from other parts of the world," he stated. "Our clients are usually people who are well-traveled, who have been to other parts of the world, and who want to find out about the grasslands environment and what comes with that. We are using an agricultural resource like ranching to stage value-added experiences and create new products for these producers."

It's not just recreational tourists who are interested in agriculture-based experiences. There is also a corporate market.

"We can use these experiences as team-building activities," Harel said. "There are opportunities for enterprises to take their staff outside their comfort zones and discover new relationships that they can work with."

Great Excursions and its partners in Saskatchewan have created tourism programs for guests from as far away as South Korea, which sent a group of 4-H students to the Beaver Creek Ranch near Lumsden.

"They needed some help to create a program for them that involved not only staying at the ranch, but doing the other activities available here, like visiting a Hutterite colony or taking in the RCMP-themed attractions in Regina," Harel said.

Great Excursions has also hosted visitors from the U.S., Scotland, Belgium, France and England, and are getting increasingly more interest from Asia.

Harel has translated his passion for the agri-tourism industry into a second career as a facilitator of workshops on agri-tourism development. He will soon be visiting Nebraska, at the invitation of the governor of that state, to participate in a rural tourism conference.

"It's a way to preserve dedicated lands for agriculture," Harel stated. "We try to work with them to develop and market tourism products that make it more attractive for producers to stay engaged in agriculture."

Harel recommends that any producer considering entry into the tourism market start with local or regional tourism associations.

"The first step is to carry out an inventory of the resources that you have, to understand what kinds of knowledge and skills you have, as well as your physical facilities. The next step is identifying potential partners, such as your local tourism organization and other partners that may be willing to work with you," he stated.

"When they market an event, they want to know what other products they can bundle together to create packages that will allow visitors to benefit from the richness of the experiences we can offer in Saskatchewan."

Many farmers and ranchers may not realize that what they do to produce food and make value-added products is of great interest to others who do not share this province's heritage. According to Harel, our secret ingredient is ourselves. "Being who you say you are and trying to develop something that's unique to you is the formula," he said.

Harel welcomes new entrants to the agri-tourism sector. "Come to Tourism Saskatchewan events and meetings. Get engaged and become active stakeholders in the industry, and together we will make Saskatchewan shine on the world tourism scene."

For more information, contact:
Claude-Jean Harel, President
The Great Excursions Company
Phone: (306) 569-1571

Update on Rend Lake Water Levels

The latest from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineeers:
As of 1:00 p.m., Friday, April 4, the current pool elevation at Rend Lake is 411.72 feet NGVD. The lake is expected to crest on Saturday at a level slightly lower than 412.0 feet ngvd.

The Rend Lake dam received approximately 1.49 inches of rain last night which did not substantially raise the level of the lake. All Corps of Engineers campgrounds remain open, however the Honker Point access road has been closed due to high water. Campsites are available in the Shady Rest and Lakeview camping loops within the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park. The Rend Lake Resort remains open with accommodations available in the resort, conference center and motel.

Although rainfall totals in the area fell short of predicted amounts, motorists are reminded to use caution when driving in low-lying areas which are still prone to flooding. Rural roadways may have been damaged during the recent heavy rains and may be hazardous to vehicle traffic.

For more information on lake levels go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rend Lake Web site at or call the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493.

Gem & Mineral Show This Weekend

The Southern Illinois Earth Science Club will hold its free gem and mineral show this weekend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday here in the Williamson County Pavilion.

Vendors will be showing off include exhibits of minerals, fossils, Indian artifacts, gemstones, jewelry and lapidary work.

The Ben E. Clement Museum from our sister city of Marion, Kentucky, will feature minerals from their world-class collection and the Illinois State Geologic Survey will also have maps and guides for sale.

There will be working demonstrations of lapidary skills, arrowhead making, rock painting and related crafts.

A silent auction will also be held, along with numerous chances to win door prizes.

DuQuoin State Fair Goes With Jungle Theme

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting this afternoon that the theme for this year's DuQuoin State Fair will be "It's a Jungle in Here".
The fair will feature a free jungle theme park north of the two permanent homes in the fairgrounds. The theme park will host three structured shows on each day of the fair. Tigers, cougars, monkeys and various types of snakes will also be available for viewing.

The fair will run from Aug. 22 through Sept. 1.

Presidential Golf Trail About to Debut?

We know Bill Clinton likes to golf. Forty years earlier it was Dwight Eisenhower's game that made the news, but I admit I really hadn't thought about the combination of Abraham Lincoln and golf before yesterday when a reporter called me about it.

Turns out this was a case where the reporter knew more than I did. Apparently state Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Centralia, has this idea of a seven-course Abraham Lincoln Golf Trail to be modeled and advertised much like the Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, which is to golf trails like the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is to wine trails.

Tessa Culli wrote about it last month in the Mount Vernon Register-News and I missed it.
MT. VERNON — A proposed Southern Illinois golf trail which includes the Rend Lake Golf Course is just the beginning of a bigger plan, according to state Rep. Kurt Granberg.

“It’s hard to market just one course,” Granberg said. “If you want to attract a lot of people, start in the Metro East area, go downstate, hit lodges where you can utilize state lodges and parks. The golf trail is part of a large economic development blueprint for the region. The golf trail is just one part.”

Besides Rend Lake the article notes he is also including Kokopelli Golf Club here in Marion and Stone Creek Golf Club in Makanda definitely in the plan and "would like to add the Gambit Golf Club in Vienna.

In addition to the local golf clubs there are two to four more in the MetroEast and along the I-64 corridor.

There's a meeting next week where Granberg is expected to unveil more details to the golf courses.

What's not known at this time is how this will impact the Southern Illinois Golf Trail.

Top Holsteins Live the High Life on Osler-Area Farm

Life is good for the 20 competitive Holstein cows on Bryce Fisher's dairy farm near Osler. He maintains the special group as his star exhibits, and as a result, has collected a mantle full of ribbons, including Grand Champion Holstein at the 2007 Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

Fisher's national champion is Silverridge Leduc Noleta, a cow he has been showing for six years.

"I bought her when she was about 10 months old, and she's five years old now," said Fisher. "At the calf shows, she did well. Then when she calved as a two-year-old, she calved with a perfect udder. We showed out west and she was undefeated; we took her to the Royal Winter Fair, and she was first there at that age. She was second at the Royal as a three-year-old and a four-year-old. And now - Grand Champion!"

The Fisher family is now in its third generation of dairy farming. The operation began in the 1950s with Bryce's grandfather; then his father, and, now, Bryce and fiancée Raquel Dyck operate the 600-acre farm. They milk approximately 150 cows, averaging some 28 kilograms of milk per cow per day.

However, there is a special group at Fisher's farm - his exhibition stock. Those 20 cows are kept in separate accommodations.

"We keep our cows ready to show year round," said Fisher. "They are housed separately, fed separately, and looked after separately. The other cows are on total mixed ration with silage. These cows don't get any of that. They're on first- and second-cut hay, beet pulp and 16-per-cent dairy ration. They are fed and managed totally for show purposes."

Showing Holsteins is an important part of Fisher's life and work.

"We work hard at it," he said. "With different cows, we've been grand champions at just about every western show at one time or another. I think we're just really competitive."

This year's entries at the Toronto Royal Winter Fair were no exception.

"We had 11 head there, and they were all in the top 10," said Fisher. "Out of Saskatchewan, we're probably the most competitive herd on the international scene. I've been going to the Royal for the past 10 years."

Fisher transports the show stock himself, so the appearance at the winter fair meant some 18 days on the road to go out, show the cows and return home.

Showing the animals, of course, is not just about ribbons: it's about business. The sale of embryos to breeders is an important part of his operation.

"It's a huge network of people," said Fisher. "The only way you can do it is by exhibiting at big shows."

He estimates potential buyers from some 160 countries were at the Royal Winter Fair and had a chance to see the quality of his stock. However, he is careful in managing his genetics business.

"We don't over-extend ourselves," he said. "We won't contract until we have embryos to sell. We just notify people when we have some."

As for Silverridge Leduc Noleta, she's back munching and milking in her VIP stall.

"She's just a great cow and we've had a lot of fun with her," said Fisher, with no small amount of pride.

For more information, contact:
Bryce Fisher, Owner
R and F Livestock Inc.
Phone: (306) 239-2233

Log On, Sip Coffee, Learn

Producers across Canada are upgrading their skills and knowledge in the comfort of their own homes, thanks to a series of "agriwebinars" offered by the Canadian Farm Business Management Council. The current series of Internet seminars are hosted by Regina-based agri-tourism entrepreneur Claude-Jean Harel.

"They involve a presenter who comes from across Canada, the United States, Australia, or even Brazil," said Harel. "These are made for agricultural producers who are trying to decide on which future trends they should tap into. Basically, I guide the session, introduce the presenter and the topic, and make sure everything is flowing smoothly."

The agriwebinar series is presented every Monday at 12:00 p.m. eastern time.

"The neat thing about the format is that you can be in your office, in front of your computer," said Harel. "Even if you have a dial-up system, you can log on. You are joining a community of about 100 participants, listening to a presenter with a PowerPoint presentation, and the participants can ask the presenter questions, as well."

The question and answer portion of the seminar is enabled through the webinar platform.

"There's a little [text] box in the system that allows them to type in a question, and the presenter will address the questions in real time," explained Harel. "It's a very interactive format."

The topics of the webinars are wide-ranging. Subjects that have been or will be addressed include grain marketing fundamentals, biofuels, beneficial practices from outstanding farmers and agri-tourism.

The list of agriwebinar topics and dates can be found at, the website of the Canadian Farm Business Management Council. The council was developed as a management resource for the industry. It is devoted to developing and distributing advanced farm management information.

The council receives support from Saskatchewan Agriculture, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and a number of private companies. It offers a virtual library of management education and information materials, including CD-ROMs, books and DVDs, as well as the webinars.

Harel, an agri-entrepreneur himself, said he enjoys being part of the series.

"I've been active in agri-tourism and rural tourism developments in North America. I deliver workshops, for instance, in places like Quebec, Alaska and Nebraska. I learn from it myself, and it allows me to stay in touch with producers who are looking to diversify their sources of income and develop greater awareness of what others are doing across the country."

If someone logs on for the webinar, they can slip into a virtual coffee meeting with other participants.

"There is a chat system that allows people to communicate with one another for about 15 minutes before the webinar starts," said Harel.

In addition, if the timing of the live presentation is not convenient, those interested can download the webinars at their convenience from the site. It requires signing up for a membership, but that comes without charge.

Harel said this learning resource is an evolving tool.

"We're all experimenting and hoping to stage a better and more rewarding webinar each time for the participants," he said.

For more information, contact:
Claude-Jean Harel
Great Excursions Co.
Phone: (306) 569-1571

Border Opening Prompts Optimism for Saskatchewan Bison Industry

The recent re-opening of the American border is putting upward pressure on bison prices and a smile on the faces of bison producers'.

Saskatchewan Bison Association president Mark Silzer said the price increase was almost immediate.

"We had our national sale a day after the scheduled opening of the border. There were some American buyers up, and that saw the first breeding stock animals cross the border in years. Prices at the sale were up 20 per cent over the previous sale a year ago," said Silzer, who is also the Canadian Bison Association president.

Like the cattle industry, Silzer said the border closure had been taking its toll on the bison industry.

"I think that, ever since BSE, Canadian prices have lagged behind the U.S., both in finished animals and feeder stock. I think, with the border open, we are going to start to see Canadian prices come up and be more in line with U.S. prices," said Silzer.

The national bison sale was held at Canadian Western Agribition. Seven of the 32 animals that went on sale were bought by Americans, with two-year-old bulls averaging $2,442 - a 22.4-per-cent increase over 2006.

Silzer is cautiously optimistic that the upward trend will continue.

"It's hard to say. Meat prices have trended up over the past three or four years in Canada and the U.S., but Canada has lagged behind. There has been a significant investment in the marketing of bison meat over the last number of years, and we are finding ourselves approaching a situation where we are going to have to ration bison meat because we just don't have enough. That will see finish prices go higher. As those prices go up, I think you are going to see higher prices in breeder stock as well," said Silzer.

Price increases are not the only implication of an open border. It also affects the genetic diversity of the North American herd.

"There's been a lot of American producers who would have liked to access genetics out of Canada. The bison herd in North America is only 500,000 head, and there is a need for producers to access genetics from both sides of the border," explained Silzer.

However, Silzer points out there are some challenges for the bison industry.

"I think our producers are being affected the same way that beef and pork producers are by the higher dollar - that is causing some concern and affecting prices for producers - and I think the other thing is the cost of feed. With grains and oilseeds up, we have seen feed prices rise dramatically, and certainly that is having a negative impact on our producers," said Silzer.

But Silzer points out that, on the whole, the industry is cautiously optimistic.

"I think prices will move up and fall in line with prices south of the line, and I think that, when you look at the supply/demand situation, it looks like this industry is poised to be looking at some pretty good times over the next couple of years," said Silzer.

For more information, contact:
Mark Silzer, President
Saskatchewan Bison Association
Phone: (306) 682-4933
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