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B.C. names cattle industry research chair

The British Columbia government will endow a new cattle industry chair at Thompson Rivers University, with an eye on new ideas for environmentally and economically sustainable cattle production.

John Church, previously a special projects manager in Edmonton with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, was appointed Wednesday as the B.C. Regional Innovation Chair in cattle industry sustainability at Kamloops-based TRU.

Church’s job, the province said in a release, will be to develop new techniques and technologies to help make B.C.’s cattle industry sustainable.

“By funding this chair, government and industry have partnered with TRU to support ranchers with innovations that will ‘beef up’ profits while caring for our province’s sensitive grassland areas and helping to fight climate change,” said Ida Chong, the provincial minister responsible for research and innovation, in the release.

“Sustainable cattle ranching involves grazing practices that uphold the ecological integrity of the grasslands on which these operations depend,” she said.

“The cattle industry and the land will continue to flourish for future generations only through encouraging stewardship activities, information exchanges and partnerships that support the ranching practices that are so economically and socially important for Kamloops and our province.”

To that end, Church will lead a “multidisciplinary” research team at TRU, working with industry via a steering committee. Church, the province said, is particularly interested in developing feeding strategies to increase omega-3 oils in beef, and to reduce the amount of methane that cattle produce.

Church worked for Alberta’s agriculture department for seven years, leading up to a stint in its regulatory services division where he spearheaded the development of an “effective and efficient” removal and disposal program for specified risk materials, the nervous system tissues from slaughtered cattle that are known to harbour BSE in infected animals.

His work there also included analysis, review and monitoring Alberta’s chronic wasting disease testing programs, and program development and applied research on animal welfare issues.

Church, who got his Ph.D. in agriculture, food and nutritional science from the University of Alberta in 1997, went to the province after stints as a farm animal welfare consultant to the oil and gas industry, and as a manager of a large game farm operation in southern Alberta.

“The cattle industry in B.C. is an important part of our heritage and our current agricultural landscape,” Agriculture Minister Stan Hagen said in the province’s release Wednesday. “The creation of this regional position is a proactive step to ensure that cattle ranching is also a part of B.C.’s future.”

The province has put up $1.25 million for the chair through its Leading Edge Endowment Fund. The Cattle Industry Development Council and Real Estate Foundation of B.C. also funded the chair with contributions of $625,000 and $250,000, respectively.

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