Feds Deserve Kudos for New Research Facility, but Who Will Staff It?

owenI’m wondering how federal research scientists and agriculture department personnel feel about Ottawa doing a drum roll to officially open the new $10-million state-of-the-art greenhouse facility at the federal Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London, Ontario.

In the big picture, I imagine they feel some sense of pride in the facility. The centre is a long-standing, respected agricultural research icon in southwestern Ontario. It conducts studies in areas such as integrated pest management, bio-based products and processes, genomics and biotechnology, and soil and water quality.

This facility will triple its greenhouse capacity. From there, researchers will pursue the likes of plum pox virus resistance, cereal grain crops’ reliance on nitrogen fertilizer, plant-based animal vaccines, better nutritional quality for dry beans, and higher-yielding, higher-quality alfalfa cultivars, for dairy and beef.

Admirable stuff.

And maybe this is an example of what Ottawa means when it says it wants Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to focus on applied science. That was the suggestion from union bosses last month, when the feds announced 700 department employees would be cut. Not all of those affected were scientists, but nonetheless it sent a shock wave through the farming sector.

It also raised awareness that research takes time and patience — even in agriculture, a sector in which research developments move relatively quickly from the lab to the field. The pursuit of a problem doesn’t always have a practical end, but new knowledge gained along the way could help answer other questions…maybe some that haven’t even been asked yet. 

It’s great to have new buildings. But let’s not forget about the staff needed to run them. Research personnel are needed to do what Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz says he wants the new centre to do: that is, help bring long-term benefits to Canadian farmers, industry and the economy.


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


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