Pulse crop lab opens
The opening Nov. 9 of an addition to the Crop Science Field Lab east of the main campus on Preston Avenue is being called a concrete example of how industry and academia can form unique partnerships to the benefit of both.
The 12,600-sq-ft addition cost almost $3 million, but it didn’t cost the University a penny, according to Rick Holm, Director of the Crop Development Centre (CDC). The money for the building was raised by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers from a long list of donors, he explained, each with a stake in the pulse crop industry. Among the top contributors are the Agri-Food Innovation Fund ($1.5 million), Western Economic Diversification ($750,000), BASF Canada ($125,000), Philom Bios ($100,000), Morris Industries ($75,000) and Nitragin ($75,000). Fifteen companies donated from $10,000–$50,000, and numerous other companies and individuals contributed amounts under $10,000.
For the CDC, the new pulse research facility provides much needed space, said Holm, particularly for the breeding program where 20 full-time employees have been shoehorned into a space built in 1971 to accommodate three people. Also moving into the facility will be the pulse crop pathology program as well as the CDC’s plant physiology operation. Both those programs will maintain labs in the Agriculture Building but can now focus more intently on field lab work from the Preston location, he said.
Operating costs for the facility will come from the CDC’s annual budget.
Pulse crops include lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans and any other edible dry legume. Saskatchewan producers seed about five million acres to pulses annually, making this province the largest grower “by far”.
For donors, the expectation is that their investment will pay dividends down the road with the development of new varieties, Holm said. Higher yielding crops “means [producers’] efficiency increases relative to input costs, and when you develop varieties with different quality traits, you create something of greater value that gives producers a price advantage”. New varieties also open up new market opportunities.
Industry investment in crop development is not unique, said Holm. Pulse growers, for example, have invested heavily over the years in breeding and other research at the University, “and that’s a big reason why there’s 20 permanent employees in the breeding program where there used to be three or four”. And, as the success in raising funds for the new facility proves, investing in research is still an attractive option. In fact, Holm said studies into canola and pulse research have shown rates of return on investment in Saskatchewan to be 20- or 30-to-one.