This annual edition is chock-full of the latest research from major universities and research centers.

Researchers across the United States and Canada have tackled the industry's biggest challenges and thorniest issues — odor/air emissions control, antibiotic resistance, nutrient efficiency, genetic resistance to disease, animal well-being and much more.

These efforts are generally considered “basic” or “discovery” research. University researchers, presented with a challenge or a problem, design a research project to test a new theory, confirm or challenge earlier findings or strike out on a completely new path.

This is not done hastily or without review. Strict scientific protocols must be drafted; a committee of experts review all proposals, procedures and methods.

Often, the complexity of measuring and documenting data limits the trial size. These first steps at gathering information test the feasibility of a new approach, technology or input on a broader, commercial scale.

When the results are in, more scientists scrutinize the findings, checking for unusual circumstances or unusual results. Often, a second trial is needed to ensure the results are substantive.

As all good scientists know, a broader application of newfound research results will eventually be tested in the grand laboratory of the “real world,” which tends to be a whole lot messier.

It is this real world where “basic” research becomes “applied” research. It's a world where standardization is a goal — albeit a commonly elusive one. It's a world where Mother Nature and mankind play little tricks, sometimes skewing the anticipated outcome. It's an evolutionary process, really, where controlled research is tested against reality.

A Friend in Technology

It's this applied step that has gained tremendous ground in the last decade.

Whether you love them or hate them, computers and the software that drives them offer great strides in collecting data and analyzing the impact of a new technology or concept at the commercial production level.

I've seen excellent examples of computer-based, on-farm data collection during my travels this year. Ever-improving electronic technology, such as radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) and automatic weighing and sorting systems, have enabled producers to capture growth and reproduction data more accurately. Antennas, RFID readers and hand-held data loggers ensure greater accuracy in data collection processing in the time it takes an average manager to eat lunch.

What I like most about these technological leaps is that they help to level the playing field. Producers of any size can collect meaningful information at all stages of production. Increasingly computer-savvy producers can analyze this information in real time and share it, electronically, with off-site consultants, veterinarians, Extension staff or company personnel.

Beware the Pitfalls

There are two impending dangers lurking in this newfound ability to test and compare products, concepts and technologies in a commercial setting.

First and foremost, it is critical that any study conducted on the farm be set up properly. That means establishing and adhering to a set of standards. Untreated “controls” are needed to establish a base from which to compare the “treated” pigs.

A professional can help you set up an unbiased test, offer guidance in collecting meaningful data and assist in validating and analyzing the results.

This is important. Failing to cover the bases will burn up time, labor and dollars. Worse yet, inaccurate information will lead to bad decisions.

Second, new technological advances run the risk of tempting you to collect too much data. Focus on what you want to learn, and identify the appropriate measurements that will provide you with those answers.

Many swine veterinarians, Extension personnel and industry consultants have experience in designing tests. Call on them to help set up effective on-farm trials.

On-farm trials cannot and will not replace the type of basic, discovery research undertaken at our major universities. However, the technology exists to allow you to take research conducted under the most controlled conditions into the “real world” of pork production. You can test it in your barns, with your pigs, using your feed, in your environment and under your management conditions.

When done properly and effectively, you can capitalize on the latest advances in pork production. Some of this research in this annual edition is at the practical end of the production spectrum, such as stocking rates and out-of-feed events. Others, such as genetic markers for growth, and meat quality or reproduction, provide the potential for boosting your output and, inevitably, your profits.

We all know there's more than one way to raise hogs successfully. New research and technologies enable us to drill down deeper and adopt those technologies that make sense in our individual circumstances.

New research offers new opportunities. Make the most of them in 2006.