Vice President (Research), University of Guelph
A growing population. Climate change. Rapid advances in technology. These are just some of the challenges to global food security. But investments in research are leading to new approaches for sustainable agriculture and food production.
Much of this cutting-edge research is being led by Food from Thought, a research program based at the University of Guelph and funded in part by a $76.6 million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
Research and technology are changing agri-food production
Food from Thought is planting the seed of innovation by investing $20 million in new and expanded research projects this year, exploring novel findings in animal and crop science, food safety and pathogens, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. These new approaches, which in part will help detect illness sooner in livestock and crops and create more efficient farming practices, will ensure sustainability for farmers, producers, and the environment.
Results are being achieved through a multi-layered approach to research: at the micro level with pathogens, food safety, and livestock research, at the field level with economics, soil health, cover crops, management zones, and nitrogen use efficiency, at the landscape level with landscape management, pollinator health, ecosystem services, and satellite imagery, and at the global level with improving biodiversity health.
“We’re seeing increased interest in new innovative and data-focused approaches to agri-food production,” says Malcolm Campbell, Vice President (Research) at the University of Guelph. “We are leading research that leverages data science and digital technologies to sustainably feed a growing population while also improving safety and efficiency in our food systems. These findings are fundamentally shifting the future of agri-food, positioning Canada as a global leader in innovative solutions.”
These findings are fundamentally shifting the future of agri-food, positioning Canada as a global leader in innovative solutions.Malcolm Campbell
Research findings are showing promise for more sustainable systems
University of Guelph researchers have looked at farmers’ fields in Ontario and found that there are unprofitable areas of land where producer inputs don’t cover the return on investment. Taking these areas out of production can actually be more economically and environmentally beneficial for the producer. With these and other research findings, researchers are creating technology, tools, and management strategies to improve profits and enhance ecosystem services by shifting farming practices. Work is also being done to identify ways in which marginal land can be restored to a natural state. In many cases, these initiatives are farmer-led.
Growing more food alone isn’t enough. Research is being done to ensure the protection of the food supply to avoid public health issues and economic loss for producers. Data and advanced analytics as well as risk modelling are being used to identify and solve challenges in food safety and livestock health. Research is also being conducted to create new approaches for prudent antibiotic use in animals to reduce the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, as has been seen in the human population.
Supporting the next generation of agri-food leaders
The increased use of leading-edge technology requires a new crop of highly-skilled workers and thought leaders. “The future of how we feed people will look very different from today,” says Campbell. “There will be more jobs in agriculture, but those jobs will be technical, highly-skilled jobs.”
Food from Thought is investing nearly $4 million in graduate student training initiatives to meet the new reality of our agriculture and food systems. Graduate student programming is supporting tomorrow’s agri-food leaders to build the skills necessary for a changing workforce, to bridge disciplines from areas such as precision agriculture, computer vision, bioinformatics, and mathematical modelling, and integrating advanced scientific technologies.