About $9 million in new funding is going into agriculture research at the University of Alberta, an investment that growers say will be a much-needed boost for the sector.
The funds, announced during FarmTech, which was held Jan. 29-31 in Edmonton, will be for three new research chairs, which will each specialize in cropping systems, entomology and soil and plant micro interactions.
“It will be good for the students in the future. It’s needed,” said Terry Young, board chair of the Western Grains Research Foundation, which is committing $3 million for the cropping systems research chair.
“With agriculture, there is so much we don’t know about, and if we can make a difference — even minutely — it will create momentum to keep things going.”
Of the new funds, Young said the Alberta canola, wheat, barley and pulse commissions will together commit about $3 million for the chair specializing in entomology, the study of insects.
The university will also be putting in its share of roughly $3 million for the research chair in soil and plant micro interactions.
The three positions will work closely together.
“It certainly strengthens our faculty and the University of Alberta’s ability both to teach when it comes to undergrads and to train graduate students,” said Stan Blade, dean of the faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences at the university.
Young said the funding will help restore research to past levels.
“I graduated from the U of A in 1980 and it was a very good school at the time, but I think over the course of a few years it had deteriorated a bit in its research capacity in terms of ag,” he said.
“But we are getting to where we need to be to make us great again.”
Blade said the faculty has been strong in livestock, retail and economics but, with plant science, he said the university needs to make sure it’s at the top of its game.
“These three positions are going to solidify our reputation and our output because we’ve got great, early-career researchers that are going to make a difference here in Alberta and across Western Canada.”
The chair in cropping systems will study interactions between plants, soils, crop management and the environment. Some examples include water and input efficiency, soil management, economic benefits and pest control.
“It’s not your parents’ cropping systems researcher,” he said. “Of course it’s looking at what’s going on in the field, rotations and crop relationships, but it certainly can incorporate some of those newer technologies that are coming along.”
Blade said the entomology chair could look at invasive species, pest management and crop loss. The new position might also look at beneficial insects.
As for the soil plant micro interactions position, Blade said, it will likely analyze the characteristics of healthy soil, determining how to enhance plant growth though healthy micro-organism populations.