Fate of research to be decided this week

With the closure deadline looming, the head of the Thunder Bay agriculture research station is still hoping for a last-minute reprieve that will keep the doors open after Thursday.
“Nothing has been changed,” said Gordon Scheifele, research co-ordinator for Northwestern Ontario and crop technology advisor at the Thunder Bay research station.
Employees at the station have been working frantically over the last few weeks to complete as much of their research as possible before the scheduled Oct. 31 closure date.
“We could all hear an announcement tomorrow about arranging funding,” Scheifele noted. “In the meantime, we . . . will be preparing to lock up the research station, move valuable things, files, computers, and get things locked up.”
Local agriculture groups, the Northwestern Associated Chambers of Commerce, and a number of concerned farmers have been lobbying the provincial government for the past month in an effort to keep the station open.
The University of Guelph announced this summer it was closing the facility due to a capital shortfall.
According to his sources, Scheifele said there have been discussions with the minister of Northern Development and Mines and the minister of Agriculture and Food.
“There is still a huge level of activity taking place. Most is being done in Toronto as far as talks and discussions go,” he added.
NOACC also has met with the head of research at the University of Guelph and approached other educational institutions in an effort to resolve this issue.
But even if there is a last-minute change of heart, Scheifele said the damage has been done.
“It’s been difficult. We have been on an emotional roller-coaster leading to this possibility of closure,” he lamented. “It is very depressing and if things were to turn around in the next 48 hours I don’t know if the people in position to do the research can come back.”
Part of the heartache experienced by employees is that they will be unable to complete this year’s research. All of the materials and crops have been harvested, but there won’t be enough time for measurements to be taken and data compiled.
“We pride ourselves on doing work well and finishing our work, and we are not being able to finish this year,” Scheifele said. “Good quality, hard-earned data is not going to get processed.”
Currently, they are working to decide which materials to send on to the Emo or New Liskeard research stations for analysis and which to throw away.
Meanwhile, soil and crop groups throughout the region are planning their general meetings. This year, there will be no one to attend these meetings from the research station and no new data to present to local farmers.
“It is revealing a dilemma of how the repercussions and impact of closing the station will affect directly on the field level,” Scheifele said.
While he remained hopeful that somehow the station will not have to close its doors permanently tomorrow, Scheifele stressed the last few months of uncertainty definitely have taken their toll.
“If it does get changed, it will take all my personal strength to get my head back around it and looking on the positive,” he remarked.

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