Want to help preserve and advance the family farm? Invest in research

Owen RobertsResearch is often seen as an investment in new technology development, in whirring instruments or the roar of equipment. That might make it easy to forget that new technology results from new knowledge.

And knowledge is key to preserving and advancing modern family farms.

That reminder comes courtesy of Mildmay, ON dairy farmer Ralph Dietrich. He’s the chair of the Livestock Research and Innovation Corporation, which along with the province, the University of Guelph, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, is developing a $25-million dairy research centre near Elora, at the University of Guelph research station there.

A ceremony was held last week to mark the beginning of the facility’s construction.  Ralph was among the half-dozen dignitaries seated at the front of the special-events tent in which the ceremony took place, along with two other farmers who, like him, are the fathers of Aggie students who’ve graduated from the University of Guelph — Bill Emmott, chair of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, and Stewart Cressman, chair of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario.

The dignitary dads each took their turn at the podium, and each noted with great pride that their kids are Ontario Agricultural College alumni. Indeed, Tim, Janelle, Phil, Wes, Blair and Scott all went on to start fine careers as farmers, agricultural bankers, input suppliers, and other important occupations, including teaching.

But the job’s not finished. The dads are strong supporters of research, and patriarch Dietrich sees the new facility in a unique light – it’s a way to keep his kids not only involved in agriculture, but in succession planning for his farms as well.

Says Ralph: “This facility, and all it represents, gives me additional hope for the future of the industry and for being able to someday transfer my farm to my kids.”

He’s particularly pleased with how the facility will help develop high quality personnel for the research-intensive dairy sector, for what the facility’s academic leader Prof. Vern Osborne calls “cow-side” research — health, reproduction, nutrition, life-cycle, emissions, welfare and value-added milk components. Scientists, industry personnel and farmers will all come together there to address challenges and opportunities in the dairy sector, and beyond, as other commodities invest in it as partners as the facility progresses.

“We can’t lose this knowledge and expertise,” says Ralph. “We can’t teach people, then have them leave the province. We need teachers to stay here and teach others and keep the industry strong. This facility gives us a place to do that.”

It’s a timely message. With the federal government courting European trade by opening the door to cheese imports, family farms need all the help they can get to stay competitive. The kind of new knowledge that will be incubated at the Elora research facility is vital.

 

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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