Mike McMorris, the new CEO of Ontario’s Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), is a firm believer in systems research — finding ways to leverage better results through collaboration and making connections across species.
He’s also focused on better co-ordinating research services, making sure member organizations receive value for their investments and digging deeper into the “innovation” side of the corporation’s mandate.
One area he’s particularly interested in is data collection.
“How does the livestock industry catch up to crops in terms of easy data capture?” he says, adding that it’s important to make sure that the data actually works for the farmers.
LRIC was created in 2012 initially to provide the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs with a cohesive picture of what kinds of capital and operational investments the sector as a whole needed. It also helps member livestock groups with research process and communications.
Founding members included the Beef Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork and the Poultry Industry Council. The corporation has also helped the sheep, goat, equine and aquaculture industries with their research needs.
Now, LRIC provides members with end-to-end customizable research services, including setting priorities, issuing calls for proposal, evaluating proposals, identifying funding opportunities, reporting back on progress and advancing the adoption of results. It also acts as a conduit between the organizations, the provincial government, national research bodies and universities.
It also issues LRIC’s LYRICS, a monthly newsletter that’s chock full of items about current events in Canadian livestock research.
“Getting clearer research priorities — within and across commodities — is a real win that LRIC has brought to the table,” McMorris says of the organization’s accomplishments. “Communicating research results is much better as is identifying emerging issues.”
McMorris holds a master of science in animal breeding and comes with decades of experience in agriculture, including progressively more responsible jobs at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association and Agricorp. Most recently he was the head of Agsights, a company that provides livestock farmers with technologically advanced management tools and services. He was also on the board of directors at LRIC for three years.
In the beef sector, McMorris says that the Beef Farmers of Ontario will be using LRIC’s Smart Simple online research management system to allocate $200,000 per year over three years to production research. The system is customizable, depending on the needs of the group involved.
“LRIC is a big help because it administers and co-ordinates research funding so we don’t have do it internally,” says Richard Horne, Beef Farmers of Ontario’s executive director, who also sits on LRIC’s board.
He adds that because LRIC operates across commodities, the Beef Farmers of Ontario can find opportunities to jointly fund research that affects more than one type of livestock.
“Having another voice at the government table promoting the value of livestock and beef research is important and also helps us broaden our reach,” he says.
Horne also says that LRIC was instrumental in negotiations to get the new, state-of- the-art Elora Beef Research Centre up and running. The centre comprises 165,000 square feet, with two barns that can house 288 mature cows and 120 heifers, 300 acres of pasture, group housing pens for pairs and heifers, maternity and special needs pens, along with labs and meeting space. The new centre just opened in summer of 2019 at Elora, Ont., and will be focusing on feed, nutrition, reproduction and performance research.
Funding and collaborating
Beef Farmers of Ontario, along with each of the other funding organizations, pays an annual $40,000 fee for LRIC’s services. OMAFRA kicks in $300,000 annually under the federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership initiative.
Through a 30 cent per head check-off, the Beef Farmers of Ontario also funds the national Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), which adds up to about $250,000 per year.
“We’re in an excellent position to make more connections with BCRC, given Mike’s background in the beef industry,” says Beef Farmers of Ontario’s Horne. “We have an opportunity to do more collaboration with his experience and connections.”
McMorris is keen to collaborate with BCRC, including in a research priority setting session with the Ontario Forage Council in October.
“Forage is the underlying crop that feeds an awful lot of livestock in Ontario,” he says. “It overlaps with dairy, beef and sheep — so it’s a very important area to explore.”
LRIC has an international advisory committee that includes members from the U.S., Australia, Scotland, the European Union and the Netherlands, as well as Alberta, which provides a wider perspective on livestock trends and issues.
They meet a couple of times a year to find out what’s going on in other parts of the world. Using this group, LRIC identified and alerted the industry about alternative protein as an emerging trend in 2015 — long before the current media attention began.
McMorris is looking forward to continuing and improving the research services provided by LRIC, making sure member organizations spend their research investments wisely and efficiently, developing more partnerships such as the one with the Ontario Forage Council, improving on-farm data collection and getting research results both communicated and used to push forward innovation in the livestock sector.
He is committing to face-to-face meetings and quarterly written reports to provide feedback to each organization and to ensure that the corporation is reaching expectations.
“My number one objective is for funding organizations to know that they’re getting value from LRIC,” he says.