by MIKE BEAUDIN
The Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station will continue to serve farmers in the northern Ontario community for at least the rest of this year.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation will extend its funding agreement to keep the centre operating from the end of March through to the end of the year, said a news release issued Tuesday by Bill Mauro, MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan and Minister of Natural Resources.
The agreement means the centre will have $150,000 to continue meeting the growing needs of the northern community. The centre was scheduled to close at the end of March due to a lack of funding when its three-year contract with the heritage fund corporation expires.
In addition, part of the funds will be used to continue a study exploring the feasibility of the centre after this year.
“It’s very good news,” said Peter Aalbers, president of the board of the association that oversees the station, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Now we can move forward.”
The news release said without the new agreement, the station would not be able to continue research that includes:
- Screening of crop varieties (wheat, barley, oats, flax, rye)
- Evaluation of pulses (chickpea, lentil, peas, beans)
- Introduction of new cover crops (spring barley, winter wheat)
- Fertilizer management practices
The 36-acre station started in 1990 as a federal research facility but the provincial agriculture department took it over in 1992 and ran it in conjunction with the University of Guelph until 2003 when cutbacks forced the university to withdraw.
Without the university funding, local producers formed the association and managed to find different sources of project funding through in-kind contributions and industry donations. In 2012, they entered into a three-year contract with the heritage fund corporation.
“Nobody has to come up with that kind of money on their own when they do research,” said Aalbers. “They would like us to be self-sustainable but to me that’s impossible when you’re doing research.”
Local farmers relied on the station to help them find ways to adapt their growing practices to the unique soil and climate conditions in the Thunder Bay region.
Bruce Forrest, a past president and board member, said in a phone interview Tuesday that in addition to the research, the funding means farmers will also still have continued access to advice provided by the centre’s researcher.
The station employs three people, a fulltime researcher-manager and two seasonal workers. Working with an annual operating budget of about $200,000, the station serves 40 to 50 farmers in the region.
Aalbers said some of the research that had been nearing completion would now be finished.
“We would like to see this completed otherwise it would be lost research,” he said. “Sometimes this research takes three or four years to do. Now we have enough money to finish these projects.”
Forrest said although much of the research is applied locally, it’s being applied to farms across the country.
He said the feasibility study, which had already been started by the association, may recommend the centre change its role or may find other funding options. He said the centre still faces an uncertain future.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs will pay for the study, said the release. BF