N.L. to build livestock disease lab, boost ag research

Livestock and crop producers in Newfoundland and Labrador are expected to benefit from over $11 million in public funds aimed at boosting preparedness for foreign animal diseases and expanding ag research.

The two levels of government on Thursday announced a $3.9 million contribution for the province’s Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Specified Risk Materials (SRM) Disposal Initiative, toward building a new animal disease lab, meant to help increase animal disease surveillance and detection capacity.

The governments’ stated goal for the new lab is to “support the competitiveness of the livestock industry” in the province.

The facility is meant to “enable rapid and accurate animal disease surveillance and animal disease detection,” and is to be equipped with a biomedical waste incinerator for “limited use” as a facility for SRM disposal on a fee-for-service basis.

(SRMs are the nervous-system tissues known to harbour the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in infected cattle, and are banned from use in food, feed and fertilizer, thus creating headaches for slaughterhouses and rendering facilities which now must remove them for separate disposal.)

The new lab — to be added onto the existing post-mortem facility in St. John’s, run by the animal health division of the provincial natural resources department — is also expected to “expand existing animal disease surveillance and research, and develop local expertise and decrease dependence on outside laboratories.”

The plan for the new lab also calls for renovations to the provincial post-mortem facility itself.

“Direct benefits”

The governments also pledged $7.5 million for the provincial Agriculture Research Initiative, which they said is meant “to help farmers and others in the sector lower production costs, enhance environmental sustainability and seize opportunities in new crop varieties, livestock and crop management practices through new techniques especially suited to the Newfoundland and Labrador climate.”

Specifically, the research funding is to target areas of interest such as:

  • soil, land and water resource management;
  • development of crop and livestock management practices to boost yields and lower production costs;
  • northern agricultural practices; and
  • testing and evaluation of new crops and varieties in the horticulture sector.

Priority is to go toward research work involving partnerships between farmers, processors, industry associations, public and private sector research agencies and universities within Atlantic Canada, the governments said.

Funded research will also have to “demonstrate the leveraging of additional resources, provide direct benefits to the agriculture industry and have a strong science-based approach.”

The $11 million allocated to these projects will include over $6.8 million from the federal government’s AgriFlexibility Fund plus over $4.5 million from the province.

While Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t exactly considered an ag powerhouse among the provinces, its agriculture and agrifood industry includes about 550 farms and 100 manufacturers, responsible for farm receipts of about $115 million.

The province’s ag industry also employs about 2,700 people during peak season, the province noted Thursday.

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