Friday, 16 February 2018 06:08

New exhibition showcases work of agricultural research centre in Swift Current

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Research scientist Samia Berraies (at right) speaks about wheat breeding to English language training students from Great Plains College who visited the exhibition along with school groups on Feb. 8. Research scientist Samia Berraies (at right) speaks about wheat breeding to English language training students from Great Plains College who visited the exhibition along with school groups on Feb. 8. Matthew Liebenberg

Scientists at the agricultural research station at Swift Current have been conducting research about farming practices in the semi-arid prairie region for almost 100 years.

The new exhibition at the Swift Current Museum showcases the history and current research activities at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Swift Current Research and Development Centre (SCRDC).
An open house and reception for the exhibition took place during the evening on Feb. 7 and there were organized school tours during the day on Feb. 8. SCRDC staff were present on both occasions to speak to visitors about the exhibition and their research.
Stephanie Kaduck, the education and public programs officer at the museum, felt it was a real benefit to have the research staff at the exhibition.
“They’re all so passionate and to be able to see someone’s passion in their work aids immensely in appreciating how important the research station is,” she said. “It’s not just another business. It has people who are actively trying to make this agricultural region successful and in fact agricultural regions across the world.”
The research station has been an integral part of the community's past. The Department of Agriculture purchased the land for an experimental research station at Swift Current in 1920. Research at the facility during the severe drought of the 1930s helped to improve farming practices and to make it more suitable for a semi-arid region.
“The research station was a critical factor in recovering from the Dirty Thirties,” she said. “It was a whole group of people that become part of the community. ... There was always a strong connect between the scientists and the farmers. They did research on people’s land and they were creating strains specifically to address issues that the farmers were having and so coloured the development of the whole southwest really.”
A section of the exhibition highlights the history and research achievements of the SCRDC. Research staff at the facility developed the world's first creeping rooted alfalfa in 1955 and in 1961 a new tomato variety, the Swift tomato, was developed at the research centre.
Research at the centre helped to expand turkey production in western Canada. Scientists at the centre have developed a variety of cultivars over the years, they have been at the forefront of agricultural biotechnology research, and an organic research program was started in 2007.
Dr. Bruce McArthur, the associate director of research, development and technology transfer at the SCRDC, noted that some 70 varieties of cereals have been developed at the facility and almost all the durum being planted in the prairies was developed by scientists at the Swift Current centre.
“The station has changed since 1920 from being a station that was really developing agricultural practices and plant varieties and back in the day looking at animal husbandry and poultry and all that sort of stuff, because that’s what farmers needed, to becoming a station where we are a national lead on several things or the centre of excellence for range and forage, and grasslands research,” he said. “We do an awful lot of work in terms of the development of hard red spring wheat varieties and durum varieties. We do environmental work as well.”
He felt it is important to inform the public about the work being done at the centre and this exhibition can help to do that.
“Up to the 1950s and the 1960s, maybe even the 1970s, the research station was a real integral part of Swift Current,” he said. “Over time, because I think we became much more national in terms of some of the scope of the work that we were doing or at least regional in terms of the prairies and because farms got bigger and you have fewer farmers now than you did in the day, we’ve grown distant from the community. When everyone’s aunt or uncle or cousin or whatever had a farm, there was that kind of close connection. Now it’s not so much the case. So having displays like this and getting people out and just showing what we do and why we do it, we’re trying to reconnect with the community.”
Dr. Alan Iwaasa, a research scientist in grazing management and ruminant nutrition, was present at the exhibition to speak to members of the public about his work.
“It’s an opportunity for me to share what we’re trying to do at the Agriculture and Agri-Food research centre in Swift Current,” he said. “Unfortunately scientists are not necessarily always good at communicating what they’re trying to do and there tends to be sometimes people who are afraid to ask or are unsure what we actually do. ... So by sharing this and by showcasing some of the things, hopefully people begin to understand.”
He spoke to people about a section of the exhibition that highlights the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration potential of livestock grazing on grasslands. His research includes an evaluation of the benefits of different grazing systems, how to best use forage species at different times of the year to extend the grazing season, the impact of grazing animals on different forages, as well as the potential of grasslands to store carbon.
“So we intend to look at the entire carbon footprint of that type of grazing system and the use of grazing animals on grasslands, and try to look at the pros and cons as well as the benefits,” he said. “There are many benefits associated with having a more sustainable grazing system and managing our pastures properly to get the benefits of not only the carbon sequestration but also the benefits of the animal utilizing that forage resource.”
The SCRDC has been a steady presence at Swift Current for a long time and that will continue. It currently employs about 130 people and the facility has recently been experiencing some growth.
“Over the last year we’ve hired I think five new scientists and we’re in the process of still completing that hiring process, which means we’ll end up hiring some technical support staff for them,” Dr. McArthur said.
A recent investment of $35 million at the SCRDC resulted in the construction of new state-of-the-art laboratory facilities. At the moment the old laboratories are under renovation to become the new office block. He therefore feels positive about the research centre's future.
“The producer groups around here are incredibly supportive, both in terms of providing us with research dollars and providing us input in terms of what they see as the major problems, whether it be in pulses or in wheat or in whatever,” he said. “So I think it’s a pretty rosy future right now.”

Read 527 times Last modified on Friday, 16 February 2018 09:17
Matthew Liebenberg


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