The Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives has its funding for the next five years. It has its new learning centre. Now, it has its first on-site general manager.
Mary-Jane Orr stepped into her new position Sept. 4, taking over management at all three MBFI sites, two just in or outside the north edge of Brandon as well as the main Brookdale and MBFI learning centre site, less than half an hour to the north.
Ramona Blyth, MBFI president, announced Orr’s position Aug. 21, putting a punctuation mark on the learning centre’s grand opening.
“It was time to add a full-time, on-site general manager,” she said. “We’ve had interim general managers who have not been on site through our partnerships. Our partners have been very supportive of making sure that we have all of our people in place.”
Raised on a small farm near Carberry, Orr followed her family into the agricultural industry, earning a bachelor of science from Brandon University before setting her sights south of the international border.
Moving to Indiana, Orr joined Purdue University’s department of agronomy, specializing in soil microbiology. Orr earned her doctorate while at the university, also taking time as a post-doctoral associate on sustainable bioenergy and conservation cropping systems.
“I initially started out from the environmental perspective — so how can producers be more focused on being more environmentally sustainable? That was my focus through my PhD,” she said. “What are the best management practices from a nutrient cycling balance approach? So, how do we minimize nitrogen losses from different types of soils and biofuel production?”
Orr later returned to Manitoba as a nutrient management specialist for pork giant, Hylife Ltd., and her focus soon expanded to sustainability on the farm scale. How could farms realistically become more sustainable? How could nutrient management strategies change? What strategies actually worked and what were the economic realities of the switch?
Orr joined forces with local farmers, such as her recent work developing an on-farm research hub with Minto-area farmer, David Rourke. Much like the projects she will now help oversee at MBFI, the project looked to merge annual cropping systems with livestock with an eye towards regenerative agriculture.
It was the centre’s combination of peer-reviewed research, applied research and demonstration projects that initially attracted her to MBFI, Orr said.
“It’s at that kind of crossroads where I find a lot of job satisfaction and meaning, and that’s where I want to be, to help the industry move forward in both being economically viable and growing and making it feasible to either stay in the industry or come in the industry if they’re a young producer,” she said, adding that she sees land use efficiency as a focus of MBFI. “Maybe they’re interested in starting out and that can be pretty overwhelming, but if they see a model that works, that might be one avenue to grow the industry.
“You can have creative academics and then you can have creative producers, but to have that bridge between them is where the industry will really take off,” she also said.
Orr’s personal mission statement meshes with the centre’s existing mandate. Self-described as a “centre of agricultural innovation engaging in science-based research to benefit valuable ecosystems, improve producer profitability and build social awareness around the beef and forage industry,” MBFI was founded through partnership between Manitoba Beef Producers, Manitoba Agriculture, the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association and Ducks Unlimited and stresses sustainable production. MBFI commonly hosts both research projects and workshops on the topic.
The new general manager helps launch the initiative into its next five years, Blyth said. The federal and provincial government doubled down on the research station in August, promising $2.85 million.