Former ARIO Chair sees positive path forward for livestock research

Stewart Cressman sees infrastructure renewal as one of the successes during his tenure

Past Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario chair Stewart Cressman speaking at the 2016 opening of the new dairy research facility in Elora - the first of several new agricultural research facilities in the works for Ontario

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A lot of change happened during Stewart Cressman’s 13 years on the board of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO). But as he reflects back on the organization he chaired for eight years, he’s confident ARIO – and livestock research in Ontario – are on the right path forward.

ARIO provides advice to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on strategic directions for agricultural research in Ontario, and is the owner of 15 research stations across the province.

According to Cressman, a key change has been the evolution of the director selection process to include board discussions about the perspectives and skills that could complement the organization, although the provincial government still has final say on who ultimately is appointed.

“That added ability to strategically look at skill sets for the board is a transition we moved towards in order to make sure ARIO continues to be able to provide the best possible advice into the future,” says Cressman.

There’s also been change in how agricultural research priorities are set, with ARIO working together with OMAFRA’s Research and Innovation branch to come up with a more streamlined approach that encouraged more involvement from the industry.

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) has been leading the priority setting process for the horticulture sector, for example, and Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) does the same for livestock and poultry sectors.

According to Cressman, this approach gives the industry greater input into bringing research ideas forward and prioritizing areas of greatest need instead of relying on government to make those decisions.

But by far the biggest theme that dominated his tenure was infrastructure renewal with respect to the research stations under ARIO management. Many facilities were aging with equipment not reflective of modern technology, for example, which limited the research that could be conducted – and it meant that tough decisions had to be made. This included the closure of stations at Kemptville and Alfred, for example.

“In a lot of cases, increasingly budget was going to maintenance of buildings, and high heating and operational costs, so the debate was how do we renew the infrastructure and reduce the maintenance and operating cost so there could be a maximum investment into research,” Cressman recalls.

A new dairy research facility opened in Elora in 2015, and construction on a new beef research complex there is well underway. Additional land has been purchased near that existing research farm to allow for more pasture-based research, as well as provide space for future new swine and poultry buildings. A new turf grass facility is also in the works.

Along with the infrastructure renewal came a requirement for industry to help share in the cost of any new facility construction, which Cressman says helped the commodity organizations become more involved and identify what farmers felt was important in terms of research for their sector.

Infrastructure renewal has also helped shape the University of Guelph’s renewed commitment to agricultural research, which also resulted in the hiring of new faculty and staff – a very positive development for the farm community, he notes.

Cressman’s commitment to research started during his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Guelph in the 1970s, and was reignited when he joined Ontario Pork’s research committee in 2002, serving as chair from 2007 to 2013.

A short initial commitment with an expert panel advising ARIO led to an appointment as an ARIO board member in 2005 and he became board chair in 2010 after serving in the vice chair role. And although he’s now no longer involved with Ontario Pork or ARIO, Cressman continues to serve as chair of the national pork research cluster, Swine Innovation Porc.

“I have enjoyed working with some very qualified and informed people, and I’ve appreciated what I’ve learned and the opportunity I have had to serve the industry that has provided a living for my family,” he says. “ARIO has strong members that will give sound advice into the future, but we have to remember that things will always change – and you have to continue to evolve to the needs of the day.”

This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to report on Canadian livestock issues, research developments and outcomes.

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