Bringing industry and researchers together to spur innovation
Mentorship program introduces new Guelph faculty to livestock sector
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
Karen De Bruyn has some unique insights when it comes to research and the pork industry. Not only did she grow up on a family hog operation in Oxford County, but she also completed a master’s degree with well-known University of Guelph swine researcher Dr. Bob Friendship.
That combination landed her an opportunity to give a presentation to new faculty at the University of Guelph as part of a unique mentorship program run by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC).
“It used to frustrate me when I was in the research world - there are so many good researchers doing great things, but they don’t talk at the level of industry people,” says De Bruyn, who now works for Total Swine Genetics near Tillsonburg as a production analyst.
There’s a lot of demand in the industry for research and innovation, she believes, especially with upcoming deadlines around transition to loose sow housing - and a lot of questions around topics like behaviour and management in that loose housing system that will need answers.
The research opportunity and industry need also go beyond the more traditional swine research fields of health, reproduction and nutrition to encompass more broad issues like waste reduction and single-use plastics. They are often not considered by research faculty but have the potential to impact the sector significantly.
“I would love to see biodegradable products for use in swine breeding; our semen tubes and rods are all plastic right now,” she says.
She adds that because semen is a live product, the industry has very specific plastic quality needs to ensure the product stays usable - and research and innovation will be key to a viable solution.
Her LRIC connections led her to Prof. Erica Pensini, an engineering prof at the University of Guelph who is currently developing biodegradable bale wrap for the livestock industry. Although Pensini is not yet ready to tackle solutions for the genetics industry, it’s something that could be an option for the future - and it’s connections like these that could pay off for both researchers and the livestock sector, De Bruyn believes.
LRIC launched the first cohort of its mentorship program last year to build bridges between new University of Guelph research faculty and the livestock sector. An initial cohort of nine participants from the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), and College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CPES) have been taking part in a mixture of webinar-style and farm visit-based learning.
“There is a growing number of faculty who work on research for the livestock sector but who are unfamiliar with the issues facing the industry,” says LRIC CEO Mike McMorris. “This new mentorship program gives them a chance to gain some of those insights that will hopefully help them in their work.”
According to McMorris, innovation requires many things, including sound research rooted in industry needs, strong working relationships between university faculty and industry, and effective technology transfer involving many organizations. LRIC’s mission is to help drive innovative thinking and the adoption of innovation in the Ontario livestock industry.
“Having a close working relationship between faculty and industry is key. Knowing industry issues, having the connections and speaking the industry language is foundational in being successful in their work, and ultimately, benefits industry,” adds McMorris.
From the perspective of someone whose been on both the research and the industry side, De Bruyn offered the following tips to mentorship program participants:
- Connect with industry: build relationships with farmers, service providers and industry partners
- Speak at producer’s level: talk about research projects and outcomes in non-scientific ways that illustrate why they are important and what impact they’ll have on the farm
- Know your funding sources: be familiar with the organizations and businesses investing in research
- Connect with other disciplines: consider partnering on research projects with faculty from other departments for new perspectives and ideas
- Don’t be scared to ask questions: look for answers to things you’re not familiar with and reach out to industry experts for information
- Think outside the box for connections: research and innovation project ideas and partners can be found in many different places
LRIC’s initial cohort is wrapping up its program participation this spring. More information about LRIC’s mentorship program is available here or by contacting LRIC at 519-766-5464 or email@example.com.
This article was printed in Ontario Hog Farmer, June/July 2021.