Study urges major dairy farm upgrade
Better research, green facility will meet industry needs
By Colleen MacPherson
A comprehensive study of the U of S dairy farm suggests the need for a major upgrade to not only improve teaching and research capabilities in the College of Agriculture, but also to help meet the long-term needs of Saskatchewan’s dairy industry.
The current facilities were build some 30 years ago and “no longer reflect what one would find on a typical Saskatchewan dairy farm in 2005,” according to Bernard Laarveld, head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science. In addition, today’s producers face new and challenging issues “so we (the University) have to stake out what we can do for the industry. We have to design for the next 20 years and plan for the industry’s needs for University research and extension … and that means a facility that focuses on research, teaching and technology transfer.”
It is expected that the Facilities Management Division will issue a tender for an engineering consulting firm to develop a design and cost estimate for new dairy facilities before year end. However, Laarveld stressed there is no agreement in place that guarantees any funding. The design and cost estimate should be ready for presentation to Saskatchewan dairy producers in April, but whether they and other potential sponsors agree to support the project financially “is a big if. It’s all feasibility right now.”
Laarveld expects any new construction will take place very close to the existing dairy operation on the east side of campus.
The study was paid for in part by the Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Saskatchewan program of the Saskatchewan Council for Community Development. The U of S contributed 10 per cent of the estimated $100,000 cost in cash and 20 per cent in-kind, said Laarveld.
Talks with industry representatives were key to the study. Saskatchewan’s dairy producers are responsible for an economic impact in the province of over half a billion dollars annually – small relative to the beef or grain industries but significant because that impact is spread over both primary production and food processing, he said. “But there are many uncertainties in the industry at the moment. It’s trying to respond and they want research in these areas.”
Of particular concern to producers is the need to advance green technology on dairy farms. “They see this as a major issue for them and they’re very, very worried about the rising cost of energy”. With that in mind, any new facility will be designed to look at energy efficiency, air quality, odour control, water conservation, manure handling, heat exchange and use of solar energy, said Laarveld. The result will be an operation able to accommodate most current areas of research as well as other, new projects. “It will be a testing ground for dealing with areas like energy efficiency, and it will also improve our training ability for both agriculture and veterinary medicine students”.
New green technology and sustainability initiatives “are generating a lot of interest” outside the dairy industry, said Laarveld. SaskEnergy has been involved in developing the design requirements for a new facility, and there is also interest from Natural Resources Canada’s Bio-Energy Development Program.
One design element dairy farmers are adamant be included in the design is a public viewing area, a place where people will be able to see the entire dairy operation.
Laarveld said working closely with industry on projects like this is a two-way street – the industry identifies its need and supports University programs, “and we bring our expertise to the table. We know about the latest issues in the industry and we can help them. This,” he added, “is outreach.”