"My goal is to improve the economic vitality of the province by looking at what we have in Newfoundland and Labrador and then figuring out how to best use our resources over time in a way that cultivates prosperity."
If you were making a meal using solely ingredients grown in Newfoundland and Labrador soil, you might assume that the only food on the plate would be things like potatoes, turnips and cabbage. This may not be entirely true, but there’s no doubt that the province relies heavily on food produced elsewhere. Through her research at the Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative (BERI), Dr. Catherine Keske wants to help improve Newfoundland and Labrador’s food security while making local agriculture economically sustainable.
Newfoundland and Labrador is far away from the places where most of North America’s food is produced and is isolated from the mainland. This means almost everything on the grocery store shelves is transported by road and a ferry service that is often interrupted by the weather. Throw in a short growing season and a relatively small population that is spread out over a large area and you get the unique market conditions faced by food producers and consumers in this province.
Dr. Keske feels that this isolation gives the province an opportunity to be a world leader in sustainable agricultural development. She views the island as a laboratory where there is a rare opportunity to minimize research variables. Dr. Keske is an agricultural economist, but she sees herself as an integrator, bringing science and economics together. Dr. Keske and her colleagues at BERI are exploring ideas of food security and food sovereignty and how the province can gain more control over its food sources in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
Dr. Keske said she has one goal: “To improve the economic vitality of the province by looking at what we have in Newfoundland and Labrador and then figuring out how to best use our resources over time in a way that cultivates prosperity.”
In the initial phase of her research, Dr. Keske is studying the field-to-farm scale cost and the revenue necessary to grow crops that have potential for Newfoundland and Labrador, such as wheat and barley. Farmers will want to know the likelihood of the crops being profitable under different growing and market conditions; among other things, the project’s goal is to provide a break-even analysis of growing experimental crops.
The resulting preliminary economic analysis will be shared with the Provincial Forestry and AgriFoods Agency and ACOA, which will use the information to prioritize technical studies on the logistics and long-term sustainability of growing these crops.
The initial study could also lead to field trials of the crops deemed most likely to be successfully commercialized. Findings can be used to directly encourage entrepreneurship that will generate industry-level support for future projects.