More than 800 acres of farmland, livestock barns for three species as well as several houses were recently sold, marking the end of nearly 30 years of agricultural research at what’s known as the Burford Research Farm.
“After a thorough evaluation, we have updated our R&D (research and development) strategy to expand our validation farm network to better reflect our customers’ reality across all regions in Canada,” said Dr. Kathleen Crispi, director of innovation at Trouw Nutrition. Trouw took over the research farm in 2007 when its Dutch parent company, Nutreco, purchased Shur Gain.
Crispi said staff was informed of the decision on Oct. 19, with a timeline to cease operations this summer. For Sale signs were erected in early December. The real estate company selling the farm now has it posted as sold on its website.
Why it matters: Research conducted at the farm has helped shape knowledge in the swine, dairy and poultry sectors.
Trouw Nutrition’s website describes the farm as “Canada’s largest privately owned animal R&D facility and one of the largest in North America… On average, the team has 10 years of experience in dairy, swine and poultry research. Additional support is supplied by three species-specific veterinary experts.”
Crispi said the sale of the farm does not signal a withdrawal by the company from supporting research. Along with what she referred to as “validation farm” co-operators, “we will also continue to collaborate with scientists and researchers at top teaching and research universities in North America, including the universities of Guelph, Alberta and Saskatchewan.”
Strategic agreements were announced by Trouw Nutrition in October 2019 with the University of Guelph and in June 2020 with the University of Alberta.
“The new strategic partnership will match more researchers from the University and Trouw Nutrition, involve the sharing of research facilities, and enable the acceleration of key research and development activities,” said a University of Guelph news release at the time of the announcement.
The company also has a strong relationship with the University of Manitoba.
As for the validation farms, Crispi said Trouw has partnerships with three commercial swine barns and a broiler facility in Quebec and a layer site in Ontario, with a broiler producer in British Columbia set to begin its participation in 2021. Short-term plans for increasing that network include additional investment in the Quebec broiler facility, moving the Ontario facility to an under-construction new home and securing a swine barn in the West.
The farm’s sale, though, represents the loss of a part of Ontario’s agricultural heritage.
The Burford location was the third of what was originally the Shur Gain farm, which was established in 1951 at Weston, moved to Maple in 1952, then subsequently to Burford in 1992.
It was the site of first off-farm employment for numerous post-secondary students, who would toil there over the summer and often be housed in student bunkhouses. In recent years, Crispi said, a single summer student has typically been employed in the farm’s crops division.
Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show held its first three shows there, in 1994, ’95 and ’96, before relocating to Woodstock. Significant investment was put into the farm at that time in the form of electrical and water lines — infrastructure that was later removed when the agricultural expo relocated.
Part of the decision was the inconsistency of the soils on the Burford farm.
“You could walk 100 feet and soil would change,” long-time COFS leader Doug Wagner said during celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary. “It wasn’t an even playing field for the crop input companies…. There definitely were spots in the farm that were not as productive or consistent as they had to be for the investment that some of the companies were putting into being there.”
Included in the sale, according to a post on the Culligan Real Estate website was: “827 acres with approximately 725 acres workable and systematically tiled, all in one block. Buildings include seven homes, three poultry barns, 34,000 square-foot hog barn, 108-cow tie-stall barn with pipeline…. Can be bought with or without 108.9 kg dairy quota and Holstein dairy herd.”
The comprehensive nature of the farm’s infrastructure, though, also represents a potential hindrance to anyone, including Trouw Nutrition, looking to upgrade.
“The Burford facility was designed 30 years ago as a multispecies R&D facility and, to meet future innovation, science, biosecurity and regulatory requirements a greenfield construction site would be required,” Crispi said of the decision to sell the farm. “These updates could not be completed with the flexibility or speed needed for the future.”