Making An Important Impact
"Changing Lives, Improving Life"
Since beginning their research in the late 1800's, plant agricultural scientists at the University of Guelph have broadly impacted the daily lives of growers, consumers and industry in Canada and throughout the world:
- Yearly, researcher scientists in the Department of Plant Agriculture release and test new crop, fruit and vegetable varieties that increase yields, resist disease and pests, resist chilling, add value to farmers' fields, and benefit the environment, the consumer and industry, helping to bring more profit and choice to rural areas.
- Our plant varieties are grown by thousands of producers in Ontario and the rest of North America.
- By one measure, the total economic impact of the plant varieties released by the Dept. of Plant Agriculture totals at least $300 million/year, a huge return on investment, for which the University of Guelph receives $700,000 in royalties each year.
- Our researchers have increased food production in China and other developing countries, resulting in our faculty receiving the Friendship Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Peoples' Republic of China to foreign scientists.
- Our scientists work with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, researching methods to grow plants on long space voyages to Mars.
- Our research into haploid cereal production has decreased the time it takes to conduct traditional breeding in crops such as barley, resulting in one of our faculty members receiving the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian award.
- Our research helped to introduce soybeans to Canada, now grown on tens of thousands of hectares, helping to nourish humans and animals with high quality protein, as well as to nourish the soil with renewable organic nitrogen.
- Alone, OAC Bayfield, a variety of soybeans released by the Dept. of Plant Agriculture, was grown on 400,000 acres in 1997.
- Research in the Dept. of Plant Agriculture identified a superior strain of Rhizobium bacteria called 532C, used by soybeans to fix organic nitrogen. This discovery has increased soybean yields by 7% and has increased the value of Ontario soybeans by $15 million/year.
- A new variety of asparagus, "Guelph Millenium", may increase yields by 40% compared to the U.S. varieties currently grown in Ontario, potentially raising gross income by $2.5 million/year for Ontario asparagus growers.
- New state-of-the-art technologies and processes being developed by our researchers are helping to bring about a new bio-based renewable economy, better for both the farm ecosystem and the consumer.
- Our research into molecular markers has accelerated traditional breeding of important agronomic traits in a variety of species including corn, field beans and soybeans, an example of molecular biotechnology helping farmers.
- Our researchers are frequent guests on television and radio and are quoted in newspapers and newsmagazines, helping to explain issues of food and environmental safety to the general public.
- The Food Safety Network (FSN) publishes 4 online listservers daily which reach 10,000 direct subscribers in 70 countries and hundreds of thousands of others. The FSN hosts a national 1-800 food safety information phone line. The FSN develops, implements and manages on-farm food safety programs for Ontario fruit and vegetable growers and processors.
- Our researchers are developing a nitrogen test to reduce the environmental waste caused by fertilizer run-off and leaching, while allowing for better yields and lower costs for farmers. These tests may empower farmers to better manage their soil nitrogen, allowing real time nitrogen measurement during the growing season. Work is continuing on testing new types of fertilizers to benefit both farmers and the environment.
- Our researchers have discovered that soil sulfur deficiencies may be limiting the production of vegetables such as cabbage, perhaps previously mistaken as nitrogen deficiencies. This finding may lead to higher yields and reduced use of nitrogen fertilizers.
- Our researchers are working on diversifying the crops currently grown in Ontario, offering new choices to Growers. These crops include high vitamin C broccoli, chives, herbs, sweet potato, nuts and medicinal plants.
- Our Faculty and Research Scientists are consultants to local, national and international corporations, converting theoretical knowledge to new products and safer food production.
- Our researchers speak to growers' groups and turn their concerns into active research.
- Finally, we have trained thousands of farmers, agricultural scientists, biotechnology workers, field extension specialists and many other professionals involved in agriculture, who now positively impact the economies of Ontario, the rest of Canada, and the world. This accomplishment is difficult to quantify in dollar terms, but likely dwarfs the other tangible economic indicators of our research impact.
It is easy to forget in urban areas that farming not only brings about food production, but it is also humankind's most significant source of employment and income. As global climate change brings about upheavals in temperature and rainfall patterns, continued research and investment in basic and applied agricultural biology remains essential, as an insurance policy for humanity. It is estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), that more food must be grown in the next 50 years than all of the food ever produced by humans over the last 10,000 years. Research and training being conducted in the Department of Plant Agriculture will help to meet these enormous challenges.