THUNDER BAY — An annual tour of Lakehead University’s Agricultural Research Station highlighted the facility’s success in supporting innovation by local farmers, at a time when future funding for the facility is uncertain.
About two dozen members of the local farming community joined director Tarlok Singh Sahota for a walk through the flowering fields with the results of numerous experiments at the Little Norway Road station site on Tuesday.
It was an opportunity for farmers to see the results of these experiments firsthand, Sahota said.
“We believe seeing is believing,” he said. “We’ve done a good job, and that good work shows because it’s applied on the farm. If we keep doing research here and no one applies it, there’s no point.
The station seeks to conduct at least one new experiment each year, whether it’s a new crop, fertilizer or planting approach, he said.
This year they are testing Anvol, a product that delays nitrogen release from urea, preserving more nutrients for crop uptake and leaving less runoff in the environment.
They are also testing hypotheses about the benefits of growing three varieties of wheat together in varying proportions.
Peggy Brekveld, a dairy farmer from the Murillo area and president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said she was a local farmer who had benefited from the station’s research by incorporating micronutrient research into corn cultivation.
“The annual crop tour is an opportunity for us to take a look at what is happening in the fields, what kind of response you get to different fertilizers and what varieties work best in this special place where all the variables are the same,” she said.
“For me, as a farmer, I might consider that when this type of alfalfa is doing better than another, I would choose to buy that one next season.”
The station has also demonstrated that crops, including canola and soybeans, are viable in the area, she said.
“They actually thought soybeans wouldn’t grow in Thunder Bay, because we’re too cold,” she said. “What the research has shown here is that we could grow soybeans, and the reason for that is that we have longer hours of sunshine.”
Nearing the end of a five-year funding agreement put in place when Lakehead University took over the agricultural station in 2018, Sahota said he hopes LUARS will continue to support his work.
Its current funding of approximately $2.65 million over five years will expire in March 2023.
Brekfeld echoed his wish that the station could continue to operate.
“I really hope there will still be funding for LUARS after this five-year cycle,” she said. “I think the trials they’re doing here contribute to this common goal of improving the environment, doing more with less and making sure we feed the soil.”