New building elevates ag research in Peace Country

Western Grains Research Foundation

Agricultural research in northern Alberta got a major boost when a brand new $2 million facility opened earlier this year.

The building is the new home of SARDA Ag Research and brings new capacity and improved efficiency to the organization. It’s also an exciting addition to the community of Donnelly, Alberta. 

“There’s been lots of buzz about the building,” says executive director Vance Yaremko. “It rained seven inches and we still had 135 people, and not just farmers, come out to the grand opening because people really wanted to see what was going on.”

SARDA Ag Research was previously working out of a 65 year old shop with a cracking foundation and renting office space at a local municipal district building.

When the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) approved $750,000 in Accelerating Capacity Initiative funding towards a new building, Yaremko and his team started planning. Then a local farmer offered to donate 15 acres of land for the project and it was decided that the organization would make the move to Donnelly Corners.

The 10,000 square foot facility is located along Highway 2, which offers exposure and easy access for farmers and other researchers.

The donation of the land has not only helped SARDA Ag Research’s budget for the build, it is also benefiting research by providing space to establish long-term trials.

“Having a site with land where we could secure long-term projects has always been something that SARDA has wanted,” Yaremko explains. “In the past we have leased or rented land from farmers and it becomes a problem if they decide to sell.”

Simon Lavoie, a farmer from St. Isidore who serves as SARDA Ag Research chair, is excited about the opportunity for long-term trials on owned land and sees many benefits of the all-in-one facility.

“In our area it’s the only research centre where farmers can physically go and see how trials are doing, and it’s another tool in our toolbox to help us make decisions,” he says.

Yaremko shares that it’s important to expand agricultural research in the area because many projects that are successful in southern Alberta are not viable or need to be adapted for farmers in northern areas.

In the future, Lavoie would also like to develop a school tour program where students can visit the site and learn about agriculture.

“There are local schools interested in bringing kids through the facility to show them how we do research and now we have a place where we can safely show people what we do and be proud to show them,” he says.

Yaremko and Lavoie hope to secure additional grant funding towards the new building, which would allow SARDA Ag Research to create new jobs and expand programming. A second phase of a building cold storage facility is also being planned. 

SARDA Ag Research is a non-profit organization directed by producers from the Municipal Districts of Smoky River, Greenview, Big Lakes County, Northern Sunrise County and the County of Grande Prairie. The centre provides unbiased agricultural research on varieties, fertility management, new product testing and more.

The WGRF is a farmer-funded and farmer-directed non-profit organization investing in agricultural research that benefits western Canadian producers. To date, more than $229 million has been invested to support diverse crop research projects.

The WGRF has committed $32 million to the Accelerating Capacity Initiative to expand crop research capacity.