New crops and soils research plan at U of M gets canola funding

A crops and soils research centre at the University of Manitoba is closer to reality, thanks to a donation from canola growers in the province.

The Manitoba Canola Growers Association has committed $500,000 to help build the Prairie Crops & Soils Research Facility at the university. The new centre is expected to cost $18.7 million and construction will likely begin in 2022. Once built, it will house about 150 scientists and technicians.

“We truly appreciate MCGA’s investment in the (centre), a facility that will greatly enhance our research and education programs in sustainable crop production,” said Martin Scanlon, dean of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the U of M.

“We look forward to working with Manitoba’s canola growers in advancing agronomic practices, cultivar development and digital agriculture, while preparing our students to become future leaders for the sector.”

Scanlon and other ag faculty leaders have been thinking about the new facility for years. Many of the university’s labs and research buildings, for soil science, plant science and food science, are in need of an upgrade. The proposed centre will house the labs and scientists under one roof, which should encourage collaboration.

“Between the soil guys, the plant guys, the entomologists, the engineers and also the food scientists…. so all that stuff coming off the land, whether it’s soil samples, plant samples… they would have a 21st century home to (process and test),” Scanlon said in May. “That’s where we came up with the idea of an integrated soil and crops processing facility.”

As an example of how the teamwork could happen, Scanlon pointed to the proteins within canola meal.

Maybe a major customer wants more production of a certain canola protein, but it’s unlikely that one U of M expert could solve that problem. It might require a soil fertility specialist, to design a fertilizer program that produces more of the protein in the seed. And likely a canola breeder, who can tweak the plant’s genetic code to produce more of the desired protein.

Clayton Harder, Manitoba Canola Growers chair, said innovation is critical for producers – who must remain competitive in the global market.

“Manitoba farmers benefit from Manitoba focused research and this facility will ensure Manitoba is on the leading edge of discovering and bringing these advancements to our farms.”