Ontario Agriculture & Agri-Food Sector to Benefit from Provincial Investment

May 3, 2021 – The Government of Ontario and other partners are investing nearly $27 million into five Ontario Genomics-led and co-led projects in the Large Scale Applied Research Program (LSARP) with applications in the agriculture and agri-food sector. This Genome Canada program supports large-scale genomics applied research projects using genomics approaches to address challenges in Canada’s key economic sectors and create socio-economic benefits for Canada. The provincial government invested over $4 million with additional funding from Genome Canada ($9.7 million) and industry and research partners for a total of $27 million in support for these job-creating projects.

Ontario Genomics plays a vital role in advancing these projects by supporting the development of their proposals, helping them access diverse funding sources, and finding the right industry partners to take this research out of the lab to apply it to the world’s most pressing challenges. Since its inception in 2000, Ontario Genomics has raised more than $1.27 billion for genomics applied research in Ontario and directly supported more than 9,100 trainees and jobs. We have 110+ active projects, 500+ impactful partnerships and have secured $1.34 billion in follow-on investments.

Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector supports one in eight Ontario jobs and accounts for over 30% of Canada’s total GDP.

“While Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector is strong and growing, its demands and challenges are also rising. Global food insecurity, competition, and technological disruptions are on the rise because of epidemics, climate change, and economic constraints. Fortunately, genomics-based innovations and technologies provide significant opportunities to advance and modernize Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector for a critical competitive advantage.” – Dr. Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO, Ontario Genomics.

“As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, our government is committed to investing in projects that support research and innovation in the agri-food and agriculture sectors. By investing in projects supported by Ontario Genomics, our government is supporting research and technological advances in the sector to ensure the sustainability of the agriculture and agri-food sectors.” – Ross Romano, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities.

One of the projects funded in this round, the “GEN-FISH” project, led out of the University of Windsor, is using genomic approaches to develop toolkits based on so-called environmental DNA (eDNA) from water samples that will provide quantitative assessments of the health of fish and the stressors they face. Collectively, these toolkits will enable a complete and accurate assessment of the status of Canada’s freshwater fish resources. This will save millions of dollars in fish survey costs and will result in additional indirect savings through more effective and directed management action. Furthermore, and most importantly, this project will ensure the sustainability of Canada’s freshwater fish resources for generations to come. This project has already piqued the interest of numerous industries in the environmental sector.

“Despite freshwater fishes being critical for Ontario’s economy, food security and aquatic ecosystem health, over 25% of its freshwater fish species are considered “at risk.” The Genomic Network for Fish Identification, Stress and Health (GEN-FISH) brings together 25 experts from across Canada to address the startling loss of fish biodiversity using genomic tools integrated with cutting-edge social science methods. Our work will help stakeholders effectively conserve and manage fish stocks through assessment of fish community composition and health, facilitated by extensive collaboration and consultation with fishery professionals.” – Dr. Daniel Heath, Project Lead & Professor, University of Windsor.

“The project strives to enhance local capacity by supporting traditional ecological knowledge preservation and inclusion to ensure outcomes address local research priorities, specifically food security and subsistence fisheries, and potential opportunities for sustainable economic development options. FISHES will work closely together with traditional knowledge holders and scientists, local and regional governments, Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs and Fisheries and Oceans Canada on seven species of fish across the North (including Northern Ontario) to establish new methods for stock identification and delineation of mixed stocks to enhance sustainable co-management for communities.” – Dr. Stephan Schott, Project Co-Lead & Associate Professor, Carleton University.

Another project that has been funded, aims to use genomic tools to develop BeeCSI – a new health assessment and diagnosis platform powered by stressor-specific markers. “Our Ontario and Genome Canada funded project will help us develop tools that beekeepers can use to understand the stressors affecting their colonies. This will be of great benefit to beekeepers who are losing a large number of their colonies every winter to unknown causes. The funding is also very timely as COVID-19 has hit beekeepers particularly hard.” – Dr. Amro Zayed, Project Lead & Professor, York University.

Our 4DWheat project is important because wheat alone provides 20% of the proteins and 20% of the calories of the world’s population. Canada is one of the largest wheat exporters of the world. With 1 million acres planted to wheat in Ontario and a farm-gate value of $440 million, Ontario is incontestably an important contributor. “This is why Canada, and Ontario, feed the world. However, in order to continue to be the leader that we are, we must address the yield gap. Indeed, there is a disparity between population growth and food production prediction for the next 30 years. To address such gap, 4DWheat is exploring the potential to improve wheat by accessing genetic diversity from wild relatives. 4DWheat is a ‘thinking outside the box’ project that aims to harness Diversity, advance Domestication, enable Discovery and expedite Delivery.” – Dr. Sylvie Cloutier, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Co-lead of the 4DWheat project.

The dairy cattle resilience project led by Dr. Christine Baes is making strides in the agri-food industry. “The Resilient Dairy Genome Project addresses a number of important issues related to human and animal health, environmental impacts, sustainability and social acceptability, while responding to the growing need for safe, affordable, nutritious and high-quality protein. The genetic selection index for resilience under development will allow more accurate selection for fertile, disease resilient and environmental efficient animals. This approach will result in wider benefits to Canadian society, like reduced reliance on antibiotics, better animal welfare, reduced methane emissions and reduced land required for feed production. The strong partnership between academia and industry, including over 40 national and international partners, will ensure the collection of new data, and broad application of project outputs for the benefit of Canadian and global food security and sustainability.” – Dr. Christine Baes, Project Lead & Associate Profession, University of Guelph.

Learn more about these five funded LSARP projects:

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