GLEN LEA, Man. — A year ago, Manitoba dairy farmers could have drawn back into their shells to avoid taking on more risk.
After all, trade agreements with the Asia-Pacific region and Europe had given away slices of the Canadian dairy market and United States President Donald Trump was demanding Canadian dairy concessions.
Instead, the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba decided to invest $2.2 million in a new research, teaching and demonstration dairy barn at the University of Manitoba’s research farm.
“You invest with the knowledge you have and the information you have and you go forward,” said Dairy Farmers of Manitoba director Scott Gilson in an interview at the official unveiling of the facility Sept. 13.
“There are always trade deals. There is always something going on. If you freeze at every future event you get nothing accomplished.”
The federal and provincial governments joined in the project, providing $1.4 million from Growing Forward 2.
University of Manitoba Vice President for Research, Digvir Jayas, said pooling money made the project possible.
“Without government and industry partnership, what you see here today would not have been possible,” said Jayas.
The new barn replaces a half-century old facility and allows researchers to work in commercially relevant situations, gives graduate students a chance to work in modern conditions, and allows the public to see exactly how a modern dairy barn operates.
It “much more accurately represents where the dairy industry, where our dairy producers, are today,” said Karin Wittenberg, the University of Manitoba’s dean of agriculture.
It has free stalls and robotic milking, which might not be the way some people think milk is made. About 30 percent of Manitoba’s dairy farms now use robotic milking and the percentage is steadily growing.
Large windows provide views of most parts of the barn.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the uncertainty about dairy’s future did not discourage the provincial government from making the investment. Challenges are a reason to keep the focus on improving.
“We have to pay attention to these changes, pay attention to what’s important for the next generation,” said Eichler.
Befitting a facility that will focus on improving efficiency and productivity, the construction project went well.
“We came in on budget and on time,” said Tracy Gilson, the operations manager of Glen Lea, who oversaw the project.