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Prairie pork industry leader Bill Vaags, 82

UPDATED, Sept. 15 — A memorial service is planned for Sept. 19 in Winnipeg for a prominent Prairie figure in the business of promoting and securing export markets for Canadian pork.

Bill Vaags, a pork producer at Dugald, Man. who led the Canadian Pork Council from 1985 to 1990 and chaired Canada Pork International from 2000 to 2005, died Tuesday at age 82.

Born in the Netherlands, Vaags came to Canada with his family in 1948 and later set up his own dairy farm, switching to hogs in 1961. He served as a director with the Manitoba Pork Council starting in 1974 and chaired the provincial body from 1979 to 1989.

According to the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in 2006, Vaags was influential in resolving hog and pork trade disputes between Canada and the U.S., consulted during the Uruguay Round trade negotiations and attended General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks in Brussels and Geneva.

Vaags, the Hall of Fame said, acted as a “global agricultural ambassador,” chairing the Sectoral Advisory Group on International Trade and the organizing committee for the World Meat Congress when that event was held in Winnipeg in 2004. Vaags also served on the federal government’s International Trade Advisory Committee.

“His expertise in agricultural trade policy matters, domestic or international, was widely recognized and sought-out in both industry and Canadian government circles,” the Canadian Pork Council said in a separate statement Wednesday.

“Bill Vaags was one of the very few people in Canada who has had such a strong influence in the development of modern agriculture and in the emergence of Canada as a top pork-exporting country,” the CPC’s current chairman Rick Bergmann said Wednesday.

Neil Ketilson, the current chair of CPI, described Vaags Wednesday as “instrumental in building the Canadian pork brand and strongly contributed to the prosperous industry we know today. He will fondly be remembered as a visionary who contributed to building Canada Pork International and believing in the export prospects of Canadian pork.”

The hog business didn’t always reciprocate, however. In 2009 Vaags told Reuters reporter Rod Nickel he would have to sell his Dugald hog operation in absence of government aid.

“I’m living on borrowed time,” Vaags said at the time, noting his 1,200-sow operation was a third smaller than it was two years previous. Producers, generally, were up against high feed prices as well as reduced exports to the U.S. due to a strong loonie.

“The equity we had is gone… The bigger we got, the harder we fall.”

The Hall of Fame in 2006 hailed Vaags as a “consensus builder” who “sacrificed time and personal gain to further the well-being of the Manitoba and Canadian swine industry.” Vaags is survived by his wife Bertha, his five children and their families.

A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 11 a.m. at Covenant Christian Reformed Church, 653 Knowles Ave. in Winnipeg, following a private internment on Sept. 18.  –– Network

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