Wim van Berkel lands recognition for swine genetics work

van Berkel is the general manager of the Swine Testing Association near Lacombe

A local man has landed a special award for his extensive work in the Canadian swine genetics industry for more than 20 years.

Wim van Berkel, general manager of the Swine Testing Association near Lacombe, landed the B.W. Kennedy Memorial Award earlier this summer in Ottawa from the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement Inc.

On the plaque it reads, “The Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement Inc. presents this award for outstanding achievements and contribution to the Canadian Swine Improvement Program.”

On the nomination form that was submitted for van Berkel, it reads, “One of Wim’s biggest strengths is building relationships with people and he put that skill to good use any number of times in his career with WSTA (Western Swing Testing Association).

“He took over the manager’s jog at WSTA when I (Keith Rasmuson) left in 2002 and soon after began to serve on the national ultrasound standards committee.

“Wim was successful in obtaining support for a number of research projects from ALDA and other funding agencies that involved CCSI, Lacombe Research Centre and others. He also did ultrasound work for research projects by Lacombe, Alberta Agriculture, Prairie Swine Centre. The work and revenue from these projects helped tremendously with WSTA’s financial security.”

The reason for the nomination? “(Wim) has worked in the Canadian swine genetics industry for more than 20 years. He has provided leadership, training and management services for the farmers in the purebred pig industry in Alberta.”

For van Berkel, who originally hails from Holland, the honour wasn’t expected. “It was a complete surprise – honestly,” he said. “I deal with universities, research stations – the Lacombe Research Station and government institutions – provincial and federal,” he added, reflecting on his career over the years.

As mentioned, van Berkel is from Holland – he’s called Canada home since 1971, eventually settling in the Lacombe area in 1988.

He studied computers and business administration at Red Deer College. He recalls a neighbour informing him of a swine organization that was privatized by the government in 1995.

That’s when van Berkel’s work in the industry essentially started to take off. He did have experience working with swine on a family farm in his earlier years, but there was something of a learning curve ahead.

“I ended up taking a course in B.C. that taught me about ultrasound,” he explained. Opportunities came along and in 2003, he became general manager of Western Swine Testing Association – a position he holds to this day. “It was a learning process for everybody,” he added, recalling the extensive stretches of the province that he worked over the years as well.

Projects also involved working for not just the betterment of the industry, but for the consumer’s ultimate benefit as well in terms of product.

For van Berkel, the fulfillment of his work has come in the relationships he has formed with folks over the years. Plus, the knowledge that he has worked to improve the industry overall and for the consumer in particular.

“I also like what I do – I have fun! I’m privileged to see every single province in Canada; I’ve been to the Northwest Territories, to the Yukon, I’ve been in China teaching,” he said, adding that it’s really been a rewarding career. “We also developed a computer program for the industry that is used in China, in Chile, Europe and Jamaica.”

Ultimately, the nomination indeed puts it best – putting van Berkel’s commitment to what he does in finer focus.

“Wim’s great sense of humour has made travelling with him a delight and full of surprises. It is with pleasure to nominate Wim van Berkel as he has been involved in scientific research, program development and program implementation in the Canadian swine improvement programs.”

mark.weber@reddeerexpress.com