48 Years of Innovation Success
Founded in 1971, the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) focuses on research and development of new crop varieties. Over the years the varieties have expanded to include: spring wheat, durum wheat, canary seed, barley, oats, flax, field peas, lentils, chickpeas, faba beans and dry beans. Of these, over 470 crop varieties have been released. These varieties have been readily adopted by farmers across Western Canada, with adoption rate acres as high as 95% of lentils, dry peas 85%, flax 83%, chickpeas 75%, canary seed 73%, barley 37%, 27% for all wheat and 25% for oats. In a recent economic impact study, it’s estimated that farm profitability has increased from CDC varieties over the last 30 years by nearly $4 billion.
The CDC has created a significant return on investment (ROI), generating an ROI of 14% since 1971. Put another way, for every dollar invested into the CDC, Canadian farmers receive benefits of $7. This ROI comes from the direct economic benefits of increased yields. When the indirect benefits of improved crop rotations and nitrogen-fixing crops are considered, the rates of return are expected to be considerably higher.
Changing the Pattern of the Prairies with Crop Development
Crop Development by the CDC has had a significant impact on changing crop rotation patterns across the prairies. From the time of settlement in the late 1800s and first part of the 1900s, cereals were by far, the most significant crop kind, in terms of acres. Wheat, oats and barley accounted for the lion’s share of acres across the prairies until the 1970s (>90%), which has declined to <50% of acres. Research into peas, pulses and lentils by the CDC has provided farmers with new options beyond constant cereal production. The spillover benefits of this research and development (R&D) investment have been the development of a food processing industry in Saskatchewan that’s heavily based on the utilization of pea, pulse and lentil crops. Without the local development of varieties of these crops that are viable for prairie climates, farmers wouldn’t have adopted the crops and the resulting food processing industry would never have developed.
More than a Centre
With a combination of staff and graduate students from the University’s Department of Plant Science, the CDC manages thousands of field plots. The management of these sites are a vital component of the variety development process that creates the registration of new crop varieties as data from the field trials is the basis for approving new varieties. Those acres are not only vital to the CDC program, but they also offer a learning space for graduate student research, which contributes to the training of highly skilled professionals and influencers of future agriculture.
The CDC’s 2018 annual report identified that 18 new crop varieties were released, the result of the roughly 110 research projects under operation. That same year, the R&D investment into this extensive program of research was $26 million. Significant investments have been made by the University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Prairie farmers, and other research funding collaborators from the private sector to ensure innovative crop varieties are constantly being developed and released.