Thursday, June 07, 2007

From Pulled-Pork to Pigcasso, Expo Has It All

Need a robotic arm to automatically clean out your hog stalls? How about an anaerobic manure digester? Or maybe you're just interested in a pork sandwich. Well then step right up to the world's largest trade show for the pork industry.

More than 30,000 visitors are expected at the 19th annual World Pork Expo, which began its three-day run Thursday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

The expo is a showcase for hundreds of exhibits promoting products for pork producers and pork consumers. Just about everything imaginable in the world of pork production is represented in row after row of booths and tables.

In one area, a visitor can learn about the seemingly endless array of veterinary pharmaceutical products. In another, there is a booth demonstrating robotic arms that can automatically clean out hog stalls.

Near the grand concourse, the smokey aroma of barbecue wafts through the air around the Iowa Pork Producers Association's big grills. The association is handing out free pork burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches for lunch.

Reigning Iowa Pork Queen Rita Cook efficiently hands out the free pork burgers to a long line of hungry folks during the lunch hour. Cook is a native of Hubbard, in Hardin County.

It doesn't take long to catch a glimpse of Iowa barbecue sauce celebrity Speed Herrig, who is busy loading charcoal into a pink barbecue pit shaped like a giant hog.

Herrig is the owner of Cookies Food Products, the maker of Cookies BarBQ Sauces. He has been a fixture at the World Pork Expo since its very first run. "We've been at it since 1988. It's always a lot of fun out here at the expo," said Herrig. "We'll go through -- oh gosh, I don't even know how many gallons of sauce we'll go through out here this weekend."

Not far away, the familiar logo of the world's most-famous canned meat, Spam, is displayed on a large RV called the Spam Mobile. Standing in front of the big rig is an announcer singing songs about the virtues of Spam and handing out free samples of the Hormel product, of course.

In the fairgrounds' livestock barns, visitors can view the "Pigcasso" art exhibit, a collection of photography and paintings, all focusing on swine as subject matter.

The World Pork Expo National Junior Show, and other breed shows are held in the Swine Barn.

There are even more exhibits in the other livestock barns at the fairgrounds, like the exhibit from the British Pig Association, where Brits are promoting their breeds of livestock.

The World Pork Expo happens to be Ian Bretherton's first visit to America. "It's a group of 12 of us, and we're here to tell people about British pigs, to meet people as well as to try and export to America," he explained. Bretherton raises hogs in Lancashire, near the town of Kirkham, England.

The main difference between pork production in England and here is the system of transporting livestock, he said. The expos and shows are different, too. "The shows are a lot larger here, and it's a lot tidier, in general, in the overall appearance," he said. "It's been rally enjoyable so far."

Bretherton said he plans to tour Des Moines while he's here. "We have a day off, before we go back, and we're gonna go and have a look 'round."

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