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WSU swine center to close in November

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Washington State University's swine center will sell off the last of its hogs and close in November. The facilities were no longer acceptable and too expensive to renovate, said Margaret Benson, chair of WSU's Department of Animal Sciences.

Only a few market hogs remain at Washington State University’s swine center.

Once they’ve reached their market weight, the Pullman, Wash., center will close, said Margaret Benson, chair of the Department of Animal Sciences.

The facilities were no longer acceptable to meet animal care or accreditation requirements, she said.

“Really, it’s a financial situation where the costs to get it up to a level that was acceptable to continue operations were too high,” she said.

Benson expected the last of the hogs to be out in November.

Actual hog numbers varied over time, but the center could house more than 100 breeding females, Benson said. Those animals were sold.

The center was primarily used for teaching, especially in recent years, housing labs or portions of courses. No faculty members will be let go as a result of the closing.

Five or six student employees would typically work at the center, depending on the season.

“Obviously it changes how we can do some of our teaching without having that facility available for the future,” Benson said.

The university is still exploring its options, Benson said, including courses offered online by the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers. The university will find internships for students interested in the swine industry to provide hands-on experience, Benson said.

Oregon State University closed its swine program and barn in September.

“The Pacific Northwest is not an area that has a lot of swine production as part of our agriculture,” Benson said. “Our situation is not unique.”

Animal science departments everywhere are challenged to find other ways to cover the material and still offer a comprehensive undergraduate education, she said.

That’s a worry, said Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board in Des Moines, Iowa. While he wasn’t familiar with the WSU and OSU swine programs specifically, Sundberg said the pork industry is concerned about research capacity in the United States.

“There are shrinking budgets all over and we understand that, but without a foundation for research, we are at the risk of not having the capacity needed to answer the questions the industry has in a timely enough manner to make a difference,” he said.

The pork industry is worried federal and state budget issues — including laboratory consolidations, a lack of researchers and a lack of funding — are passing the responsibility of research to associations and private companies.

The board can’t provide funds to maintain research capacity alone, Sundberg said.

“We’ve got to maintain what we have, even through shrinking budgets, to come out of this on the other side with something that is viable and can benefit the industry,” he said.

It would take another decade to rebuild the brain trust of researchers again once it’s lost, Sundberg said.

The pork board plans to meet with university agriculture deans and American Association of Swine Veterinarians in a few weeks about current research capacity and the outlook for the short-term and long-term future, Sundberg said.

Benson said the university continues to work with the state’s swine industry, including producers and 4-H programs. Extension faculty continues to serve the industry, she said.

“Yes, this changes what and how we do some things, but we continue to offer a valuable experience for the students,” Benson said.


WSU Department of Animal Sciences: http://www.ansci.wsu.edu

National Pork Board: www.pork.org


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