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Cereal centre closing may be signal

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OTTAWA'S closing of the Cereal Research Centre at the University of Manitoba could be a signal the Harper government doesn't see Manitoba as a centre of excellence for cereal-crop development.

"The commitment to wheat breeding in Manitoba by the federal government would appear to have taken a step backward," said Earl Geddes, executive director of Winnipeg's Canadian International Grains Institute.

Geddes said the Cereal Research Centre at the U of M was integral to the effort to create a centre of excellence in Winnipeg and to bring together agencies and agricultural scientists that research new crops.

"Certainly, with that facility no longer slated for rejuvenation, if that's the case, then certainly the incentive for the feds to invest in a centre of excellence in Winnipeg seems to be less," he said.

For several years, the grains industry in Manitoba and Ottawa has discussed an ambitious project that would move the Canadian International Grains Institute, the Canadian Grain Commission laboratory and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, all located at 303 Main St., into a new grain industry centre of excellence somewhere in Winnipeg. The Cereal Research Centre was also part of the proposed $73-million project, according to an industry-funded study more than five years ago.

Geddes said the building that houses the Cereal Research Centre had been slated for reconstruction for several years.

"The facility itself is not a suitable facility for a country like Canada to have employees doing research in," Geddes said. "The researchers that work there are absolutely world-class, but they're working in a facility that should have been rebuilt 10 years ago."

Ottawa is to close the Cereal Research Centre as part of a wide range of job cuts across the civil service. It's one of a network of 19 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centres focused on wheat and oats breeding, improving cereal quality and the grains' resistance to diseases and insects. It's to close in April 2014 after it finishes existing contracts.

At this point, it appears no scientists will be laid off and research programs will continue at other facilities in Morden, Brandon and perhaps Swift Current, Sask.

A spokesman for the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada said it has 28 members at the Cereal Research Centre, including scientists, accountants and auditors. The institute is not certain yet what the closure means for their members.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada has about 100 members employed at the centre.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Ottawa remains committed to innovation and research, but is also looking to save money by operating fewer facilities.

A provincial spokesman said Ritz and Ron Kostyshyn, Manitoba's agriculture minister, continue to discuss increased research possibilities in the province.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2012 A6

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