Thunder Bay research station to close

The University of Guelph announced Friday it is closing its Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station in October—a move that will affect the Emo research station and perhaps mean it is next on the chopping block.
“We work together,” Emo station manager Kim-Jo Bliss said. “We could definitely be cut, too.”
John Rowsell, head of northern research at the New Liskeard Agricultural Station, agreed the cuts will be devastating for Emo.
“The Thunder Bay research station provides a lot of support for the Emo research station,” said Rowsell, who is at the Emo station this week.
“Kimmy is here by herself and therefore there’s a number of things we can do at Thunder Bay to support her here,” he added.
Dr. Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research) at the University of Guelph, said yesterday that Emo won’t face cuts in the near future.
“We certainly took a look at Emo and the programs they’re doing there,” he said. “We’re making sure the programs continue to be as forward-looking as possible but no positions will be lost.”
The Thunder Bay research station assists with compiling data and packaging seed, and co-ordinator Gordon Scheifele is an integral part of the Emo station’s work.
“He has a number of projects here. He’s a real new crops person,” said Rowsell. “He does a lot of hemp, fibre flax, trials with millet and sorghum, and he’s been involved with soybean research.
“His position has been terminated as of Oct. 31 so it’s a major impact for the Rainy River District and the agricultural research here,” Rowsell stressed.
The Emo research station hasn’t had its budget affected yet and they’re not sure why.
“I don’t know why they haven’t been touched. We’re fortunate they haven’t touched Emo,” Rowsell said, adding he could only speculate the current major project on hybrid poplars has saved it.
In a memo, Wildeman wrote the University of Guelph was facing a budget shortfall and needed to make cuts in its new agreement/contract with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).
“Since 1999, OMAF funding to the university has been stable at $50.5 million a year,” he noted. “But the university has had to find ways to manage a base budget shortfall of $6 million that resulted from increased program costs and a reduction of the transfer payment from OMAF in 1999.
“Over the last few years, every effort has been made to preserve as many programs as possible through one-time funding solutions, but the fiscal reality is that these one-time solutions have been exhausted, and as a result, some programs can no longer be sustained,” Wildeman said.
The university will be consolidating research programs, too.
“These . . . strategic changes will involve program and staff changes at all our campuses, including Guelph . . . as well as at the university’s research stations in Thunder Bay, New Liskeard, Kettleby, Vineland, Simcoe, Emo, and Cambridge,” Wildeman noted.
The changes will directly affect about 60 positions, including the three at the Thunder Bay research station.
“Fortunately, in the majority of cases, individual employment has not been affected, but the university regrets that up to a maximum of 10 individuals in full-time positions will lose their jobs,” Wildeman’s memo read.
“This action is, in no way, a reflection on the importance of their past contributions to the university,” he stressed.
But that’s little consolation for those affected.
“We can’t figure this out at all,” said Rowsell. “At New Liskeard, we lost sheep research. There were, in essence, two people affected there in terms of job loss but in total, four positions were affected.
“The sheep/forage researcher [two positions in one] position was currently vacant . . . that position won’t be filled.”
Emo Reeve Russ Fortier has vowed to get the district involved to ensure the research station there remains open.
“Terrible things happen out of the blue,” Reeve Fortier said of the budget cuts.
Bliss will present a package to Emo council at its next meeting this Thursday.