Emphasis on pork industry in Branch County 2017

Branch County Michigan State University Extension supports the pork industry through educational programming.

With Clemens Food Group (CFG) Coldwater pork processing facility up and running in 2017, the MSUE support to the Pork industry intensified with the onboarding of a new Pork Team Educator housed in Branch County. The team partnered with Michigan Pork Producers, CFG, as well as local farmers and contract growers to provide employee training, on-farm food safety training and producer certifications required by processing plants that service the pork industry. As the pork industry grew in Branch county, educators were also on hand to assist with the siting of new pork production facilities to troubleshoot for barns just starting production. These efforts, combined with livestock transport accident response training, offered a number of services to Branch County farmers to help them improve their business, meet industry expectations and requirements and prepare for unexpected events.

Specific services for Branch County farmers were Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Training, Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) Certification, and assisting with open houses for new and educational programming to improve skills and production practices. Around 200 farmers and farm employees were trained by MSU Extension Educators in food safety, animal well-being and received their PQA certification, which helps guarantee them market access. Over 100 people received animal handling instruction and gained TQA certification, which is required by a number of pork processors when suppling them product, and a number of farms completed their site assessment, an on-farm verification of production practices, including animal handling, well-being and food safety practices.

One noteworthy educational program that the pork team brought to the Branch County area in early 2018 was an extensive training on the response to livestock transportation accidents. This training was developed and lead by MSU Educators and brought together a planning taskforce with representatives from Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Pork Producer Association, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Department of Transportation, law enforcement officials and livestock producers.

As the Clemens Food Group processing plant start up brought a large influx of animal haulers to the Branch County area, the task force realized the need for a network of trained people across the state to respond to rollovers of semis pulling livestock trailers. MSU Extension was at the core of this project and worked to coordinate a specialized training for local police, fire crews, ambulances, veterinarians and other officials for livestock transportation rollover accident response.

Industry experts explained animal behavior, available tools to assist in a rollover accident situation with animals, what past accidents have entailed, and shared different plans and resources that would allow people and crews to best respond to such events. Large production farms, transportation companies, first responders, processors, truck drivers, animal control officers, law officers from local, county and state levels and veterinarians from several different states completed this training. Hands-on, interactive demonstrations were used to compliment the lectures. Participants learned about extricating trapped animals, animal behavior and handling techniques, responding to injured animals, and humane euthanasia techniques. MSUE Educator Beth Ferry says, “When you can bring together this many diverse groups for a common issue that affects them all, you know you have made progress. The Branch County area will be much more prepared for these types of unfortunate incidents. I am happy to be part of the MSU Extension team that made this possible for the area.”

The participants indicated that because of this event, they had developed or refined a skill and now feel better qualified to respond to a livestock transportation accident. This training also gave attendees an opportunity to network with local law enforcement groups, as well as formulate key questions for continuous improvement of the different systems that they are each involved with. Each and every participant from this diverse audience said they are better prepared to address livestock transportation accidents and would be able to share critical information with their teams.

Focusing on providing Branch County with resources aimed at improving production and profitability, preparing for unexpected events, meeting government and processing requirements and improving quality of the products produced, while safe-guarding animal well-being, are all areas in which the MSUE Pork team have made recent efforts. They will continue to be an asset to farmers in the area by reviewing current needs of the industry and looking for ways to help farmers be on the cutting-edge of different technologies and production practices, as well as being aware of different issues that may be impactful to their businesses. We hope to continue our strong partnerships in this area of the state, helping us strengthen the work we do. 

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