by SUSAN MANN
Transforming the Delhi research farm into a Canadian agricultural water research institute is one of the possibilities being floated by farming industry representatives and others who want the facility to continue operating.
John Kelly, vice president of Erie Innovation and Commercialization, says the farm and building in the sand plains of Norfolk County is in an ideal location for such an institute. Located on Schafer Road west of Delhi, the facility can be used for work on drought-tolerant crop development, micro and macro water movement, pesticide movement and irrigation work. A number of universities could be involved in the institute, including Guelph, Western, Waterloo and Laurier, along with community colleges and private companies.
Erie Innovation and Commercialization is an initiative launched by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association to transform the future of agriculture in five counties in the south central region of Ontario – Norfolk, Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford and Brant. The organization is supported by Agricultural Adaptation Council, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and the municipalities of Norfolk and Oxford.
Patrick Girard, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada senior media relations officer, says by email the department welcomes any community or industry initiative to take on the management of the Delhi research farm.
The department is prepared to consider options and will review any formal community or industry proposal within the context of the Treasury Board’s property management policy, he says.
Earlier this year, the federal agriculture department announced it is closing the station, called the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre, by March 31, 2013. During the 1950s to the 1970s, the facility was called the tobacco research station and scientists there focused on tobacco-related research. With the decline of tobacco in the 1980s, researchers began doing work on other crops considered to be alternatives to tobacco, including ginseng, sweet potatoes, garlic, peanuts and others. It’s now also a major site for the minor use pesticide registration work and the farm contains a biomass plot.
Kelly says it’s not a complete surprise the facility is being closed but the speed the government is moving to shut it down “is a little bit of a surprise.”
One concern for ginseng growers is the Ontario Ginseng Innovation & Research Consortium headed by Dr. Ed Lui and located at Western University currently sources its ginseng from the Delhi farm. The consortium is an Ontario-based research and innovation network developing cutting-edge scientific methodologies for ginseng product quality and pharmacological evaluation.
Kelly says he’s currently writing a ‘white paper’ on possible alternative uses for the Delhi facility, which includes the building and the 160-acre surrounding land. In addition a committee has been formed and has applied to the Agricultural Adaptation Council for a grant to hire someone to “provide some recommendations” on what can be done with the site. Those recommendations would be in addition to the ones Kelly is developing in his report.
Groups involved in the committee include the South-Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation (made up of Norfolk, Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford and Brant counties), agricultural groups and private companies. Anybody doing any work in the Norfolk sand plains in agriculture “is a stakeholder,” he says.
The Delhi research facility has significant merits, he notes. It was rebuilt in 1999 “so it’s got reasonably good labs and good facilities.”
Kelly says another proposal is to turn the Delhi farm into an agri-food innovation centre of some sort, such as a privately run facility operated by various companies wanting to continue developing their programs.
Once Kelly finishes his report on alternative uses for the site, it will be presented to local governments, other stakeholders and will be available to whoever wants to read it. “I’m sure that provincial and federal governments will read it.” BF