FORT WAYNE – Its like copying the blueprint of a blue ribbon pig.
Whiteshire Hamroc is an Albion swine genetics company that grows its herd through artificial insemination. Put another way, its a process that takes DNA from the best pigs with the goal of producing the highest-quality meat. These days, that means leaner cuts of pork.
After enduring the recession, the 30-year-old company has seen business start to pick up. The company posted $15 million in revenue in 2011, up about 5 percent from the previous year. This fall, the company expects to break ground on a multimillion-dollar research and development farm in Noble County – a joint venture with a company in China.
Mike Platt is executive director of the Indiana Pork Association.
Platt said consumer demand is the reason behind Whiteshires growth. The public demands better quality food and it cant be left up to chance, Platt said.
People want their pork to be leaner, he said. So, how can you ensure that without (genetic farming)? You cant. The truth is that as science has improved over the last 30 years, it only makes sense to take advantage of it.
And Whiteshire figures to do just that.
The research project venture involves Tangrenshen Co., an integrated pork and feed firm in China. Whiteshire has been teaming with its Asian counterpart since 2007. Terms of the latest deal, announced June 7, were not disclosed. The development will create 25 permanent jobs and more than 100 temporary construction positions for northeast Indiana.
Whiteshire, which employs more than 40 workers, has three buildings over a five-acre site at 4728 N. 200 W. Besides its headquarters and genetic evaluation building, the company has two farms with 1,500 sows. Its main customers include meat packing plants, other pork farms and medical companies that harvest tissue or organs. About 40,000 pigs are sold annually.
Other companies in the state involved at the research center are Gentryville-based Tempel Genetics Inc. and Albany-based Shaffer Superior Genetics Inc. Cedar Ridge Farms of Redbud, Ill., also is participating.
This is a very exciting facility, said Clyde Shaffer Jr., president of Shaffer Genetics. We will be providing different genetic family lines of swine at the center.
As for Tangrenshen, the new research and development farm – touted as the first in the nation – will help the company mimic Whiteshires operations in the Hunan Province. The Chinese business already has a 1,200-sow farm and is planning a duplicate operation this summer.
They basically would like to take what we do here and plop it down in China, said Scott Lawrence, a principal partner with Whiteshire. This will be a training center for their scientists and middle management. They will be learning how to run and manage a genetic farm.
Rick Sherck , Noble County Economic Development Corp. executive director, said partnering with the Chinese no doubt took patience as Whiteshire had to gain the countrys confidence. Whiteshire introduced its genetic process to Tangrenshen and helped the company establish operations in China.
The cultures between the U.S. and China are vastly different, Sherck said. They worked to build a relationship of trust, and theyre obviously well respected in China. That didnt happen overnight.
Even so, genetic farming has its opponents. They believe pigs should be raised without interference from science. Tammy Driskill is a consumer advocate who grew up in a farming community. The Decatur resident also is a critic of various government policies.
Other countries (dont favor) genetic animals, she said. Does that mean that theyre smarter than us or that their governments are more concerned about their people? What do you think?
Platt, of the Indiana Pork Association, doesnt think other countries are savvier. Instead, he believes that there are simply more rules in European countries and that theyve regulated themselves out of the market.
Allen County Farm Bureau President Roger Hadley thinks a consumer would be hard-pressed to make a case against the genetic engineering of foods because the process is used in one way, shape or form in just about everything.
You wouldnt have anything to eat, he said. People dont realize it, but its found in just about everything from cheese to beer.
Whiteshire President Rebecca Schroeder said she participates in Operation Main Street, an effort to educate the public about her industry.
Its what I feed my kids, she said, but we are sensitive to some peoples lack of understanding.