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University of Regina researchers awarded nearly $600,000 through Agriculture Development Fund

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: January 27, 2021 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Kerri Finlay with students Jessica Bos and Corey McCowan testing water in a dugout in Saskatchewan.
Dr. Kerri Finlay with students Jessica Bos and Corey McCowan testing water in a dugout in Saskatchewan. Credit: U of R Photography

Three University of Regina researchers have been awarded close to $600,000 from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) for their livestock and forage-related research projects. This funding is part of $7.5 million total funding announced today by Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Maire-Claude Bibeau and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit.
 
Dr. Kerri Finlay, associate professor with the Faculty of Science, received $279,125 for her project Sulfate removal from agricultural ponds for improved cattle health: evaluating regional and local controls. Through her research, Dr. Finlay will help address water quality concerns that could affect cattle health on the prairies by identifying controls of sulfate concentrations in cattle-accessed dugouts and ponds on farmland. She will then use this information to evaluate mitigation opportunities to improve water quality.  
 
Sulfate concentrations in agricultural dugouts and ponds are currently one of the largest threats to water quality for cattle health on the prairies. In an examination of 100 dugouts across Saskatchewan over three years, Finlay found that one-quarter of the sites were of poor quality for cattle access, and nearly 10 per cent of dugouts were unsuitable. 
 

Dr. Kerri Finlay with student Corey McCowan testing water in a dugout in Saskatchewan.
Credit: U of R photography

The sulfate concentrations in water are the result of many interacting regional and local factors. Across landscapes, sulfate levels in water are controlled by the surrounding geology that supplies the sulfur, and the patterns of water movement that potentially delivers it into a body of water.

Finlay’s goal with this research project is to provide recommendations for prevention and mitigation of sulfate concentrations in agricultural dugout and pond water.
 
“As climate change and human activities alter the movement of water across the prairie landscape, it is imperative that we be able to predict and mitigate the impacts on water quality,” says Finlay. “We hope that this research will provide tangible solutions to an increasingly problematic water quality issue for cattle farmers.”
 
Dr. Wu Peng, assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received $149,000 for his project The application of artificial intelligence in agricultural land flooding prediction in Southern Saskatchewan. Wu’s research will address the current need to better understand the interaction between agricultural activities, climate change, and flooding in the prairies. Wu and his research team will utilizes a three-pronged approach to analyze and predict the agricultural flooding in southern Saskatchewan.
 
The main reason for land depletion in the prairies, and the associated soil fertility, is the erosion of surface sediments due to flooding. Agriculture areas located in flood plains could face greater exposure to flooding in the future due to climate change, including increased intensity of rainfall events. Meanwhile, agricultural grassland areas are thought to be of low priority when it comes to public funding of flood protection, compared to urban areas. Through this research project, Wu recognizes the urgent need to understand the implications of changes in flood risk for agricultural land to enable sustainable flood risk management.
 
Dr. Denise Stilling, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received $150,000 for her project Discoveries in Extrusion Pulping Agricultural Crop Residue into Compostable Products. Stilling’s research will help to address the negative environmental impact of single-use plastics.
 
Approximately 91% of Saskatchewan farmland annually produces crops and correspondingly, crop residue. Typically, this residue is regarded as waste, however the straw is an annual, renewable, relatively compostable fiber source. Crop residue from cereal and flax straw has proven to be ideal for single use packaging products, and can also be used for compostable dinnerware. Stilling’s research will look at using the crop residue to  potentially manufacture decomposable drinking straws, stir sticks, container sleeves, and medical devices, such as temporary drainage stents.
 
Research is part of the Discovery area of focus in the University of Regina’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak – All Our Relations. Excellence in Teaching and Research is one of the three overarching objectives of Discovery, with the University striving to value and support a learning environment that allows for high-quality teaching, research, and learning that strengthens the academic successes of our students and faculty and improves the lives of Canadians.
 
“This recent funding from the Agriculture Development Fund will allow our researchers to develop new knowledge, information, and technology that will benefit farmers and ranchers in the province,” says Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research). “The discoveries that we make today are an investment in the future of the province’s agriculture industry.”
 
The ADF is supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $388 million agreement between the federal and provincial governments to invest in strategic initiatives for Saskatchewan agriculture.

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