Peace-Area ag research and education boosted

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Agriculture research and training in the Peace region got a leg up last month with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The strategic partnership is expected to boost activity at GPRC’s Fairview campus as well as at the Beaverlodge Research Farm, which is part of AAFC’s Lacombe Research Centre.

Stakeholders say the MOU acknowledges the mutual interest of the two organizations in developing agriculture in the Peace River region, including innovation in the agricultural sector and education as well as training of students for employment in the agricultural sector.

“This is a great moment for our college,” said Don Gnatiuk, GPRC president. “Our mandate includes support for applied research and development of innovation capacity.” He said the college’s Centre for Research and Innovation will be a key contribution to advancing this region in those areas.

The MOU indicates several areas in which AAFC and GPRC will co-operate, including educational opportunities for students, co-operative research, and participation in training. Examples cited within the MOU include co-operative research in livestock and honeybee projects at GPRC’s Fairview campus, support for third-party research with the applied agricultural research associations in the region, and the development of an agricultural strategy for the greater Peace River region.

“This partnership has great potential for good, involving both campuses of GPRC, the many communities in our region, and beyond,” said Gnatiuk.

Beaverlodge on board

The Beaverlodge Research Farm and its substation in Fort Vermilion form the most northern agricultural research establishment in Canada. Beaverlodge, established in 1917, specializes in research and development of technology for improved production systems for crops, honeybees and other pollinating insects adapted to environmental conditions in northwestern Canada.

For Steve Pernal, a research scientist at Beaverlodge, the MOU signifies a greater utilization of the resources of the research facility. “We anticipate engagement with GPRC students,” said Pernal. “That will start almost immediately as part of the station’s summer employment program. Recruiting and matching students with interests in research-based programs in summer employment will be a first for northern Alberta,” he said.

Pernal anticipates greater engagement with GPRC under the MOU. “That might include an individual research project by an GPRC science undergrad here, or integrating GPRC coursework, such as hosting specific labs at the Beaverlodge facility.”

Further down the road, Pernal says the partnership may buoy research in the Peace in areas such as biomass using crop residues, waste-wood products, and developing green fuels.

Beekeeping may return

A beekeeping training program that was once an industry benchmark may be relaunched at GPRC’s Fairview campus. Fairview’s beekeeping program, known for strong industry and government research co-operation, was discontinued in 1999 after a successful 18-year run. Now, stakeholders are exploring the introduction of a “new and improved” program, said Dr. Rik Vandekerkhove, dean of Trades, Agriculture and Environment at GPRC. Currently, there is no formal beekeeping program in Alberta

The industry has significant potential, Vandekerkhove said, citing that the Peace country is the biggest commercial honey-producing area in Alberta. Beaverlodge’s Pernal is keen to be on board should the relaunch go ahead. As the scientist leading the apiculture research program at the Beaverlodge Research Station, Pernal said he expects to collaborate with GPRC on a program offering in Fairview.

“We’d love to be able to help that program get off the ground and remain involved over the long term,” said Pernal. “Within the federal government, Beaverlodge Research Farm is the only site at which honeybee research is based in all of Canada, making us somewhat unique,” he said. “We hope over time to add an additional research position to the staff of the honeybee program, as well as others in the crop-related programs, to maintain a core number of researchers and technicians on site.”

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