NCLE Shifts Focus From Building To Research

CANADA - The University of Manitoba has officially acknowledged the transition of the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE) from the infrastructure building phase to the active research phase.
calendar icon 4 October 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

The milestone was observed last week (September 25) with an open house, hosted by the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, that attracted researchers, government officials, farmers and the general public.

Development of the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment began at the University's Glenlea Research Station in 2005 with the construction of state-of-the-art-feed processing facilities, barns and manure storages. In 2007 field plots where established to conduct the long-term research and laboratories were set up to support odour, microbiological and nutrient analysis. Construction of the new Glenlea Farm Education Centre is scheduled this spring.

The majority of work focuses on the four main animal species farmed in Manitoba and other parts of Canada and includes swine, dairy cattle, beef cattle and poultry.

NCLE Represents One of the U of M's Largest Investments

"The National Centre for Livestock and the Environment and the Glenlea Farm Education Centre are two of our larger University of Manitoba projects," observes Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences associate dean research Dr. Karin Wittenberg. Combined they require 16 million dollars worth of infrastructure.

"We've had good support from the federal government, the province of Manitoba as well as the private sector," says Dr. Wittenberg. She says, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation and through the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, the federal government has provided $3.6 million. The province has kicked in $4.4 million through the Manitoba Innovation Fund and through Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives. On the private sector side private citizens, alumni of the faculty, alumni of the university and industry have generated approximately $5 million dollars.

Centre Accommodates Research Partnerships

"The National Centre for Livestock and the Environment is focused on multi-disciplinary systems level research that tries to integrate expertise in science from a variety of different places and institutions to try to look at whole farming systems," explains NCLE chairman Dr. Don Flaten.

Dr. Flaten observes, if you look at agricultural research over the last 100 years, it has tended to get more specialized. In order to acquire the expertise needed to advance science, in depth expertise is required. NCLE is trying to connect across those pillars."

We work with bio-systems engineers and plant scientists, soil scientists, animal scientists and economists, all working together to try to see how the system can be optimized using the most advanced technologies and techniques in each individual field."

NCLE to Focus on Long Term Programs

These projects tend to be fairly long-term adds Dr. Wittenberg. "We get not only the knee jerk immediate response that natural organisms generate but also their long term adaptive responses. They can be in any area from air quality through to the health of our soils, animal health and welfare, food safety, the microbial community in our soils and waters, so quite a broad range of activity."

Dr. Flaten notes, while there's no specific time at which a project would be considered either long-term or short-term, most short term research projects are one to three years. However he points out, with the long term field trials for example, efforts are being made to link various sources of funding to continue for at least 10 or 15 years. He believes that is the minimum that's needed.

Dr. Wittenberg agrees. "When we talk about environmental research we often think a year is a long time. But in reality it takes many years, 5, 10, 20 years to really get at the answers on the impact of a human activity on a natural eco-system, whether it's an eco-system used for the production food or an eco-system that is simply there for recreation and aesthetics."

As a researcher and a research administrator, it has become clear to me that the concept of funding long-term research is new in terms of the models that our governments use and in terms of models that industry uses.

Multi-Disciplinary Approach Promotes Networking

"One of the great things about NCLE is we also do a lot of partnerships," says Dr. Flaten,

"We've got leadership from the University of Manitoba scientists. But we've also got some Agriculture Canada scientists engaged and private industry people. Those partnerships facilitate the spreading of information, the sharing of information relatively quickly. We're hoping that we have government policy makers and extension staff learning right along side us in this program. We're also hoping that industry partners will be right there so that decision makers in both government and private industry will have access to the most current science possible on these livestock production systems issues.

Manitoba Announces 5 Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Projects

In conjunction with the open house, Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives minister Rosann Wowchuk unveiled funding for five new greenhouse gas mitigation projects, the first in a series of projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by Manitoba’s agricultural sector.

"We know that agriculture can play a very important part in reducing greenhouse gasses and our government is very committed and has made significant commitments to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted in this province," says Wowchuk.

Scientist will study the role of grasslands in mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions and their ability to provide other benefits such as reduced water erosion; they'll examine changes in greenhouse gas emissions for annual crop land that is converted to forage crops and vice-versa; research the impact of an animal’s diet on greenhouse-gas emissions from manure; and conduct two projects that will examine carbon emissions of various cropping systems and the economics of biological nitrogen production.

The work will be overseen by staff working out of the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment at Glenlea which is the central point for data collection, however the projects will take place across Manitoba, Wowchuk explains.

She notes some of the work is already underway and some has yet to get started but she expects it will take four to five years for the research to produce enough data to provide accurate assessments.

Glenlea Farm Education Centre Target Fall 2009 Opening

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the construction of the Glenlea Farm Education Centre. Both the building and the exhibits are being designed now. Construction is scheduled to get underway this coming spring and the doors are expected to be opened in the fall of 2009.

The new education centre is intended to compliment the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment. "The Glenlea Farm Education Centre is to be open to the public and it is an opportunity for the public to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices," explains project manager Wendy Molnar.

Interesting hands on activities and exhibits will provide visitors an opportunity to learn more about agriculture, whether it's the crops that are grown in Manitoba, the animals that are raised on the farms, how our food is produced and processed and how Canada's food system is one of the best in terms of food safety, says Molnar.

Molnar adds, the primary audience for the education centre are middle school students. "We've done a little bit of research on the school curriculum and we've discovered that it is through these years that the students are learning about agricultural production, about food safety, about food production in the world and in Canada. That's why we wanted to target the exhibits and programs to that sector of the school system. However, we feel that the centre is going to be of interest to young families, to anyone interested in Manitoba's agricultural systems.

Multi-Disciplinary Research Considered the Way of the Future

As a researcher and a research administrator, it has become clear to me that the concept of funding long term research is new in terms of the models that our governments use and in terms of models that industry uses says Dr. Wittenberg.

"I see what we're doing with the National Centre for Livestock and the environment as laying the ground work to support scientists who want to look at the long term impact of practices that are being used in agriculture and that are being recommended to agriculture."

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