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January 30, 2020

SASKATOON – With $2.35 million in funding from the federal government and the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), University of Saskatchewan (USask) veterinary researcher Dr. Cheryl Waldner will undertake a major five-year research program to advance beef cattle health and productivity, helping to sustain the profitability and competitiveness of Canada’s $17-billion-a-year beef industry.

“This timely and cutting-edge research builds on our university’s strengths in agriculture and One Health to help advance the livestock industry’s economic contributions to the country and ensure continued consumer confidence in the safety and quality of Canadian beef,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff in announcing the new chair Jan. 30.

The $750,000 award from the federal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is matched by $750,000 in producer check-off funding from the BCRC. USask is contributing $850,000.

As NSERC/BCRC Industrial Research Chair in One Health and Production-Limiting Diseases, Waldner will work with the industry to address priorities of Canada’s beef producers across the beef value chain—from improved herd health, to expanded surveillance of antibiotic use and resistance, to increased uptake of best practices for herd management.

“This chair will use a systems approach to build on existing research and examine complex health challenges,” said Waldner, a professor of large animal clinical sciences in the USask Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“We will identify existing gaps and fill them using innovative data collection and decision-making tools and technologies to enable the Canadian beef industry to better manage production-limiting diseases and develop evidence-based policies for animal health and antimicrobial stewardship.”

Management of diseases such as Johne’s disease in cow-calf herds and bovine respiratory disease in feedlots, as well as antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance, are key industry priorities.

“Disease-causing bacteria in animals are increasingly able to resist the antibiotics used to treat them, and the agriculture industry is being challenged to improve antibiotic stewardship in livestock production,” she said.

The tools and technologies to guide herd management and policy and enable targeted precision medicine will include genomics, big data and system science tools, network analysis, computer modelling, and smart phone sensors and apps. USask’s computer science researchers will play a key role in adapting these new tools and technologies to industry challenges and providing experts to help researchers manage the volumes of data to support complex decision making, Waldner said.

“The challenges faced by the beef industry require new and more specialized diagnostic and data management tools that can generate results in real time, and trained expertise to help producers make complex animal disease prevention, treatment and management decisions,” said BCRC Chair Ryan Beierbach. “We look forward to working with Dr. Waldner and her team on research aimed at supporting continued advancements in industry productivity and sustainability and helping to inform industry and government policy and standards.”

The IRC award enables the hiring of a junior faculty member, expanding the regional veterinary college’s beef cattle health research capacity. The IRC also includes training for at least three master’s students, two PhD students, one post-doctoral fellow and five undergraduate students, providing skills in great demand by industry and government such as data management and analysis, bioinformatics and systems science.

Among the reasons USask was chosen for the chair—in addition to Waldner’s research record and previous collaborations with BCRC—are the critical mass of beef researchers at WCVM and the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, along with access to the new USask Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.

“NSERC is proud to support the University of Saskatchewan, which has a long history of supporting research in the livestock area,” said Marc Fortin, NSERC’s vice-president of research partnerships. “Dr. Waldner and her team will develop innovative tools to support policy setting and management decisions in Canada’s beef industry, a significant contributor to the Canadian economy.”

As well, the new chair builds on a recent $5.6-million Genome Canada award to Waldner and her colleagues at USask and the University of Alberta, including $750,000 announced Jan. 29 by the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund. This project, administered by Genome Prairie, involves developing genomic diagnostics tools that can be used to quickly and accurately identify an antimicrobial treatment for a disease, something that now takes five to seven days using traditional laboratory tests.

Canada is one of the largest exporters of red meat in the world, with 38 per cent of domestic beef exported. More than 80 per cent of the cattle are raised in Western Canada.

 
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January 29, 2020

SASKATOON – Twenty University of Saskatchewan (USask) projects have been awarded nearly $7 million through a joint federal-provincial government funding program to advance cattle, swine, and poultry research.

Investment from the province’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF), supplemented by contributions from industry partners, will help researchers improve health and safety for animals, reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming, and provide promising researchers of tomorrow with invaluable experience.

“This major funding commitment from our partners supports agricultural research essential to food security in Saskatchewan, Canada, and the world,” said USask Vice-President, Research, Karen Chad. “This stellar livestock research helps increase agriculture value-added revenue, grow our agri-food exports, and address climate change, while training tomorrow’s skilled workers in this sector.”

The funding includes a $3.2-million investment in the USask Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) for the management and operations of the world-class centre. Seven of the 20 USask research projects awarded ADF funding will be conducted all or in part at the LFCE, which has a mandate to improve the sustainability of the livestock and forage industries through research and education in five key areas: soil, forage and crop systems, cow management, feedlot operations, and alternative livestock including bison.

Projects announced Jan. 29 involving USask animal health research include:

  • Developing a universal vaccine for influenza A in swine: Influenza A virus in swine is highly contagious, and has the potential to cause significant economic loss and to “jump” to humans. USask molecular biologist Yan Zhou at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) will improve an existing vaccine so it can provide broad protection against all dominant strains of the virus in swine, increase production, and reduce costs, helping farmers across Saskatchewan and throughout North America.
  • Tracking antimicrobial resistant E. coli in chickens: Infections in chickens caused by can kill up to 20 per cent of a flock, and are the leading cause of economic loss in the industry in Canada. Using whole genome sequencing, USask microbiologist and VIDO-InterVac scientist Aaron White will lead a research team to track and predict virulence and antimicrobial resistance in different strains of E. coli to better understand the cause of the infections. VIDO-InterVac scientist Jo-Anne Dillon and veterinary microbiologist Dr. Joe Rubin are part of the team.
  • Testing for Salmonella dublin in dairy herds: Salmonella dublin, a commonly multiple-drug resistant variety of salmonella bacteria, poses significant risks to cattle health and is increasingly prevalent in western Canadian dairy operations. While infections in humans are rare, and associated with consuming unpasteurized milk products and undercooked meat, the symptoms can be severe—S. dublin causes more frequent and longer hospital stays than do other strains. USask cattle researchers Dr. Christopher Luby and Dr. Kamal Gabadage are aiming to improve existing testing methods to increase accuracy in identifying which cows carry the bacteria.

Examples of livestock research projects with potential to reduce environmental impact include:

  • Using pea starch for swine feed: Increased global demand for pea protein has led to a surplus of pea starch, leftover from the extraction process. USask researcher Rex Newkirk, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Endowed Research Chair in Feed Processing Technology, will determine safe levels of the starch to include in pig feed to increase efficiency and help producers.
  • Hybrid fall rye as a new forage source for beef cattle: Hybrid fall rye, a new crop developed in Germany, is a hardy winter crop with potential to dramatically increase yields, protect the environment, increase resistance to disease, and improve farmers’ bottom lines. USask cattle researcher Greg Penner will study the rye for suitability to feed cattle and inform producers of the results.
  • Strategies to address mineral nutrition in the face of poor water quality: Sulfate-contaminated water is a major potential problem for livestock in Saskatchewan, causing nutrient deficiency and reproductive problems in cows. Penner has also been awarded an ADF grant to test whether supplementing cattle with the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol or other dietary additives may be the solution.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cattle feedlots: USask engineering professorTerry Fonstad will determine the most environmentally friendly, efficient way to store, transport, and fertilize soil with cattle manure, examining the economics and total environmental footprint of various practices. Fonstad will also measure greenhouse gases in a closed cattle barn in order to compare different strategies.
     

The funding commitment also includes $375,000 to support 10 undergraduate summer research projects per year over five years. Co-ordinated by Dr. Elisabeth Snead with help from Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture scientists, the projects provide doctor of veterinary medicine students with exposure to both research and hands-on experience working with food animals and other animals important in agriculture, with the goal of making students more comfortable and confident dealing with these species during their professional careers after graduation.

Read a backgrounder from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture with details on all the projects.

The ADF program is supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year $388-million investment by the federal and provincial governments in strategic initiatives for Saskatchewan agriculture.

 
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January 28, 2020

SASKATOON – University of Saskatchewan (USask) research has received a $675,000 boost from the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) to investigate social science impacts on food security and barriers to agri-food innovation.

The grant from GIFS will fund collaborative studies with experts in USask’s Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation Policy (CSIP) in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) and in the university’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

The work will be led by JSGS Distinguished Professor Peter Phillips in CSIP and USask Industry Funded Research Chair Stuart Smyth, who is an associate professor in the university’s department of agricultural and resource economics.

“Agriculture and the agri-food sectors are vital to Canada and Saskatchewan’s economy, and advancing these sectors requires new thinking and collaboration with diverse stakeholders,” said Stephen Visscher (CBE), GIFS’ director of strategic partnerships and chief operating officer. 

“This alliance with skilled social scientists supports GIFS’ collaborative approach to discover, develop and deliver novel production agriculture solutions that are economically and environmentally sustainable, and have the social license to operate.”

Social science plays an important role in research, providing tested and factual information about the adoption and adaptation of new products and services. During the three-year alliance, Phillips and Smyth will work with GIFS scientists, performing necessary research with the goal of accelerating the process from innovation to commercialization of products for safe, nutritious and accessible food.  

“Innovation is much more than invention. Demonstrating an innovation will create market demand, and scaling up and commercializing new technologies and products is an art,” said Phillips. “Getting all this right takes significant research and analysis and this is what we will undertake.”

Social science research provides necessary information about the socio-economic factors that shape and sustain innovation, to limit impediments from research through to commercialization.

“With the uncertainty regarding the speed or frequency of climactic changes on Canadian agriculture, it is more important than ever to have efficient commercialization and regulatory systems that are capable of rapidly delivering new crop varieties,” said Smyth. “This will help ensure Canada’s contribution to improving global food security.”

 

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