The importance of Field No. 1, and other research concerns

+ Shortly after the federal announcement, on November 26, 2014, a scientist at the Farm provided an Agriculture official involved in the negotiations with a summary of experiments taking place at Field No. 1.  In response, the official asked the scientist: “When would these experiments naturally end or would we ever stop the experiments/data collection?” The answer: “The plan is to keep the experiments running as long as possible for several reasons” including:

Having a long term rotation means that we can sample the soil and determine if one of
the beneficial reasons for crop rotation with a legume is changing the population of some of
the microorganisms in the soil. If the rotation had been ended we would not have the
resource to answer this question.

Climate is changing and as it does it influences things in a different way. Because we have
grown the crops on the same area of land we are able to merge climate and plant yield data
bases to determine how climate change has affected yield. If we use different pieces of
land we can’t be sure that the differences we see are due to climate and not soil?

+ A few days later, AAFC management was presented by a petition signed by 20 CEF scientists, explaining why the experiments on Field No. 1 are important, long term and ongoing.  Management responded with an appreciation of their concern and assurances that research on the Farm would continue.

+ At Ottawa’s 2015 Doors Open (June 6-7), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada had a station on the Farm about the long term research that is taking place in Field No. 1: “Effects of Tillage on Crops and Soil.”  Here is the poster that explains the long term experiment; field data have been gathered here for the past 20 years.

+ On September 21, Elisabeth Payne in the Ottawa Citizen gave voice to the warning by scientists that much would be lost if Field No. 1 disappears.  Starring Dr. G. Clarke Topp, also in a 1:52m video.  Says Topp: “[Soil] is a living body.  It’s the life that gives us life on this planet … it’s a thin skin … we want to use it as carefully and creatively as we can … why don’t we look ahead and see what we can prevent…”

+ In response, in a letter to the editor, George Neville (Citizen, September 25) decries the feds’ short-sightedness and points out that the federal complex at Booth Street, built in the mid-1950s, was constructed to hospital specifications — reinforcements, wider hallways, etc. — so its use could be converted if Cold War developments would call for it.

+ In a follow-up article in the Citizen of September 28, based on documents obtained by Peter Anderson under Access to Information, Elisabeth Payne lifts the veil over reaction by AAFC scientists following the November 2014 announcement of the give-away.  Abandoning tillage and crop rotation research on that site “would mean the loss of 24 years of accumulated ecological knowledge. More importantly, it would mean re-starting the experiment elsewhere and delaying by several decades the findings so urgently needed by farmers,” a scientist wrote.  Loss of the research, he continued, “would undermine the value of the international network, tarnish the Central Experimental Farm’s leadership in this experiment and negate the findings most pertinent to our climate and soil conditions,” adding that the loss of the land would negatively affect scientists around the world.

The article also reveals that new drawings of exactly where the hospital would be built reveal that Ash Lane would be rerouted.  Here is an aerial photograph showing the land that would be transferred (marked in blue; red lines delineate an initial assessment of total impact).

+ Elisabeth Payne is on a roll: In yet another article based on documents obtained under Access to Information (Ottawa Citizen of September 29) she reveals that The Ottawa Hospital’s chief operating officer, Cameron Love, pushed for a delay in public consultations until the transfer deal was complete.  Also revealed is that, six months before the deal was announced, a consultant working for AAFC raised concerns about this choice of site, noting that the Hospital had not made a strong case.

In a letter to the editor a Don Edwards of Stittsville, in response to Payne’s September 28 article, writes: “With available technology I expect that parcels of the land will be re-located to carry on the research.”  (Citizen, Sep 30)  Brilliant!

Another letter to the editor in the same issue, by Bob McClelland of Cantley, in response to Payne’s September 29 article notes: “Consultations after all the decisions are made are not consultations. … Fair warning to Canadians: no national historic site or research centre is safe.”

+ In an op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen of October 26, Jonathan McLeod sets out four priorities for Ottawa’s new MPs. No. 1 is “Save the Central Experimental farm.”  Giving away part of the Farm, he writes, “was a cynical, boorish move for the federal government … we will need another political move to save the farm.”

+ On November 14, the Ottawa Citizen published major exposés by Elisabeth Payne and Tom Spears. Payne’s long article (“Fight for the Farm”) recounts the history of this issue and includes a map of the original and current parcel destined for the hospital.  Another map shows the 12 sites that have been considered; the article notes that selection of the preferred site was based on a dozen criteria and lists nine of them.  (Go here for more on the site selection process.)  In Question-and-Answer format, Spears explains what science is performed on the Farm and answers questions such as “Can the farm be moved to a rural area?”  Also featured is a 1:45m video with CEF researcher Harvey Voldeng.

(On December 14, Voldeng would belatedly receive the Seed of the Year Award from SeCan — Canada’s largest certified seed supplier — and the University of Guelph. The Seed of the Year award recognized his research on soybeans 40 years ago in Field No. 1.  [Tom Spears in the Ottawa Citizen.]  His research resulted in a variety that could be grown north of Guelph, leading to 1.2 million hectares of soybean currently being planted across Canada, from less than 200 in 1976.)

+ In response, Peter Elliott, retired Founder of the Friends of the Farm, decries the threat issued to the Friends if they would speak out against the government’s decision and says the public must have a voice in this matter (Letter to the Editor, Nov 21).  Another opines that the Farm has become a sacred cow and opponents should gain some perspective (Nov 21).  Yet another suggests that the old DND hospital on Alta Vista Drive should be considered (Nov 23).

+ The Greenspace Alliance invited Qinxuan Chua, a third year Environmental Sciences student visiting from Singapore, to interview Dr. G. Clarke Topp and write up why soil research at the Farm is important.  Her essay is here.

+ In response to a December 11 editorial in the Globe and Mail about Monumental Errors (the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa and the Mother Canada Statue in Cape Breton), Leslie Maitland writes that the matter of the 60 acres is also not yet resolved. “If the Trudeau government wants to demonstrate its commitment to evidence-based decision-making, respect for science, transparency, and a commitment to battling climate change,” she writes, “it can start here.”

+ At the occasion of Heritage Day (February 15, 2016) the Coalition prepared an excellent handout summarizing the issues.

+ In response to a February 10 article in the Nepean-Barrhaven Metroland weekly, Clarke Topp writes:

It is a welcome change that Dr. Kitts has reconsidered the plan to build the new Civic campus on the Experimental Farm. Why was there no planning and alternate considerations given eight years ago when he was originally informed that the Farm site was not available? The long-term research on the Experimental Farm has been going on for over 100 years. The current experiments on Field # 1 is linked with an international network of science to help agriculture reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adjust for climate change. Surely, under climate changes we want food production to continue and adjust effectively without loss of food supply. Adequate nutritious food is our best form of health protection. Field # 1is dedicated experiments for this purpose.

If Dr. Kitts had set up an open and community based hospital site selection process in 2008, we could all be working together to plan a 21st century hospital knowing that safe health-filled food production had not been sacrificed.

+ A broader point is made by two Carleton University professors, about the benefits of greenspace for one’s health.  (This is a thesis proven many times over. )  David Miller cites Treasury Board figures showing that about 2,000 people live within one kilometre of the Farm and 210,000 live within five kilometres.  In his Ottawa Citizen article, Tom Spears also refers to two recent studies by Paul Villeneuve (Health Sciences), one finding that green spaces give direct health benefits, another that it makes people spend more time outdoors.  The former study is based on satellite images of urban vegetation and health data on 575,000 Canadians aged 35 and up.  (Look here for Prof. Villeneuve’s publications.)  Source: Ottawa Citizen, March 14, 2016 (print date; first posted on line on March 12).

+ On April 28, 2016, Conservative MP Pierre Poilièvre asked a Question on the Order Paper of Parliament:

With regard to the 60 acres of Central Experimental Farm land that was assigned to the National Capital Commission in November 2014: (a) within the last 10 years, (i) what specifically has this portion of the farm been used for, (ii) what species of plants have been grown there, (iii) what experiments have been conducted there, (iv) what significant or successful research has come specifically as a result of this 60 acres of land; (b) has the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted any studies in order to ascertain what the impact of this loss of land will be, in general, and on experimental research capabilities; (c) what has the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food done to date to mitigate the impact of losing this land; and (d) what does the Department plan to do in the future to mitigate the impact of losing this land?

On June 14, Minister MacAulay responded with a 3 1/2 page comprehensive explanation of what is happening on the CEF and Field No. 1 in particular. He concluded by saying that “The Government of Canada remains committed to the research at the Central Experimental Farm.” It’s not good enough for Mr. Poilièvre who continued to complain on CFRA that this re-assessment is all a waste of time (1 July 2016).

+ On June 16, the Citizen published an op-ed from Wayne Modler, a former dairy food scientist at the Farm. It argues that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have essentially abandoned agricultural research in Ottawa and the Hospital may as well take the land.

Comment: Downsizing in the 1980s has indeed seen much research leave the Farm, and Dr. Modler was one of many who lost their jobs.  As he notes, only the Crops and Oilseeds Program survived.  Some of its scientists realized that this program needs soil scientists and that is why that long term research — specifically on Field No. 1 — continues.  Based on the response to MP Poilièvre, it would seem that research on the Farm is being revalidated.

+ The BBC World Service, Science in Action program, August 19, 2016, highlighted the work of three scientists at the Farm, including that of Ed Gregorich on Field No. 1.  Go here; the segment starts at the 19:15 mark and runs to 26:20. Quote:

Ottawa’s Outdoor Lab
Ottawa is the only capital city in the world with a farm right in the middle of it. The Central Experimental Farm is a 4 kilometre square sized facility with fields full of crops like corn and wheat currently in bloom. This farm is in fact a big, living, outdoor laboratory. Its 75 scientists carry out research aimed at helping farmers increase their yields. But they are also keen to discover more about the impacts of climate change.

Comments the BBC reporter: “I highlighted just three of the globally important research projects being carried out at Ottawa’s outdoor lab and for me it’s been incredible to see so much science going on on the Farm, in the middle of the city.”

+ When the NCC asked for more information about the research taking place at the Central Experimental Farm, the Coalition responded with a comprehensive 10-page brief (5 September 2016).  The activities of the Ottawa Research and Development Centre  and the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre, both located on the Farm, are extensively documented.

+ 9 September: Deutsche Welle devotes an article to the Farm in the City.”

+ Months after a Response to the Coalition’s Petition appeared on the Auditor General’s web site, the Ottawa Citizen (Andrew Duffy, 26 September 2016) devoted an article about it on its front page under the heading: “Report sees end to climate work.” 

Comment: This is a peculiarly slanted view of what the Response says and, in fairness, the article quotes CEF scientist Ed Gregorich as vigorously protesting the journalist’s interpretation.  Also quoted are MP Pierre Poilièvre and Coalition chair Leslie Maitland. 

To lift just one quote from the Response: “Overall, the impact of closing down ongoing studies on the site are more relevant to scientific knowledge supporting the agricultural productivity and economy than scientific knowledge on environment and climate change.”  Scientists may dispute the correctness of that assessment but even if it were true it does not diminish the value of the research going on at the Farm!

On September 29, the Ottawa Citizen published a rebuttal by Ed Gregorich.  It argues that the research at the CEF is vital for the world’s food production system and that this type of research takes many years as it depends on decades of accumulated knowledge of the soil.  It appeared next to a piece by Mohammed Adam, who opines that “healing the sick is most important … Listening to some supporters … you’d think that some bawdy house was going to be built on sacred land…”

+ In late October, the British media (BBCThe Guardian) reported that the Prince of Wales had come out in support of an Anglo-French initiative to improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming.  Paul Johanis, on behalf of the Coalition, sent off a letter to the Prince, copied to the Governor General and federal Ministers, noting that soil research in the world’s second-oldest research station is under threat even though its research experiments “have a direct bearing on improving the condition of global soils, specifically in the context of climate change.”  “Your Majesty’s support to help preserve the national treasure that is the Central Experimental Farm would be of inestimable value,” the letter concludes.

Elisabeth Payne wrote a story about it on the Citizen‘s web site (November 1).

+ December 3:  Profs. Paul Villeneuve and David Miller are supervising a group of graduate students in the Health Sciences and Technology Program at Carleton University who are measuring air pollution, noise and temperature in and around the CEF.  A brief description of the project is here; Tom Spear report on it in the Citizen (Dec 8).


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