U of A strengthens agricultural expertise

Three-year, $3.7-million grant agreement with Alberta government boosts capacity for research that will benefit farmers and consumers.


(From left) Catherine Swindlehurst, interim VP University Relations; Stan Blade, dean of the Faculty of ALES; U of A president Bill Flanagan; Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen; Walter Dixon, interim VP Research and Innovation, food science researcher Feral Temelli and biofuels researcher David Bressler toured Agri-Food Discovery Place on the U of A's South Campus today as part of an announcement of a three-year, $3.7-million grant agreement with the Government of Alberta that will strengthen the U of A's research capacity in a variety of agricultural sciences. (Photo: Jordon Hon)

The University of Alberta's agricultural research capacity is being strengthened as it welcomes key programs being transferred from the Government of Alberta.

The Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) is bringing on board research programs focused on several aspects of agriculture, including beef genomics, livestock feed, dairy production, poultry innovation and cereal agronomy.

The three-year, $3.7-million grant agreement with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry also provides financial support for increased capacity for scientists who have been actively engaged in this research to join the university, including John Basarab (beef genomics and feed efficiency), Marcos Colazo (reproductive management in beef and dairy cattle), Valerie Carney (poultry innovation project lead) and Sheri Strydhorst (cereal agronomy).

Three supporting technicians also join the team this fall.

The agreement brings their collective expertise together under one unit, strengthening research and discovery that will lead to tangible benefits for farmers including higher profits, a more abundant food supply at lower cost for Albertans and ultimately, a higher quality of life in rural communities.

The agreement is part of the Alberta government's commitment to ensuring farmers and ranchers lead agriculture research priorities. Establishing Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), an arm's-length non-profit corporation, is a first step in making sure research funding priorities are producer-led. Over the long term, RDAR will assume ongoing responsibility for the funding agreement with the U of A.

"The U of A has a strong agriculture program, and adding these great researchers to their programming will benefit Alberta's farmers and ranchers for years to come. Research is critical to agriculture's success, and by leveraging and increasing capacity it will result in huge benefits for Alberta's agriculture sector," said Devin Dreeshen, minister of agriculture and forestry.

"Alberta farmers and ranchers not only feed our communities, they are key drivers of economic growth across our province. At the University of Alberta, we are proud to work alongside them, undertaking world-leading research in the lab, on the farm and in the field. Today's announcement will allow us to do even more, and I want to thank Minister Dreeshen and the Government of Alberta for their investment that will enable us to retain and support the talented researchers at the forefront of this work," said U of A president Bill Flanagan.

"The Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences is very excited to be joined by our new colleagues," added dean Stanford Blade, noting that they help connect the U of A's research even more strongly to the agricultural community.

"These individuals are excellent researchers who have an impressive track record of working with producers and the entire agricultural sector. We are looking forward to enhanced capacity and new opportunities for collaboration with our new faculty members."

Alberta's agriculture and food sector has been highlighted as an opportunity for significant growth as part of the province's economic recovery strategy, and the investment of $3.7 million by the Alberta government into ALES underscores the importance of research and innovation to the future prosperity and resilience of the industry, Blade added.

"Alberta's agricultural sector will benefit from the expansion of important ALES work that will be done in collaboration with our beef, swine, poultry, dairy and crop sectors."

The U of A's beef research, for example, which is already supported by the university's two Alberta ranches, will be even more robust with the addition of these scientists who bring along strong industry connections, said program lead Graham Plastow.

"We already have a range of faculty working on industry-related problems, and this grant allows us to be more 'boots on the ground,' which really helps in communicating the benefits of our research."

The research program focuses on building hybrid vigour in cattle for better fertility and feed efficiency rates, so it's important to get that knowledge into the hands of cow-calf producers, he said. "This grant enables us to really increase that effort."

The added talent on Plastow's team also means continued exploration and development of genetic tools that will ultimately lead to diversified products and larger consumer markets, he noted.