Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay looks over grape vines with Anna-Mary Schmidt, Head of Grapevine Diagnostics at the Centre for Plant Health in North Saanich. Ottawa announced $80 million to replace the Centre by 2022. (Steven Heywood/News Staff)

UPDATE: Feds to pay $80 million for new lab in North Saanich

Centre for Plant Health to be replaced by 2022

North Saanich’s Centre for Plant Health will be replaced by 2022.

Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food was at the Centre today and announced $80 million to replace the facility, which has been testing plants for pests and disease since the early 1900s.

Pre-planning is already under way, the minister said, with plans to replace laboratory facilities that sit on either side of East Saanich Road, with a world-class plant health research facility — with labs and greenhouses — on the east side of the federal property.

“In my opinion, this is how you have to do it,” MacAulay said, noting he’s a supporter of science and research and that the commitment is part of the government’s ongoing investment in science infrastructure across the country.

André Lésvesque, senior director for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA), said tenders for contraction could go out between one-and-a-half to two years from now and the goal is to have the new Centre open by 2022. The new facility will be home to the existing group of Centre scientists and employees, he noted, adding that it would also be a better, collaborative place for researchers from around the world to use for their own work.

The current Centre for Plant Health buildings vary in age from 50 to 70 years, said Anna-Mary Schmidt, head of grapevine diagnostics at the Centre. the first structures were put up in around 1912, but most of those no longer exist.

The facility tests a variety of plants for pests and disease, using plant science to ensure that whatever leaves the site is clean and will not spread viruses that could affect farmers’ crops.

Schmidt added the facility tests for plant viruses, to try to prevent it from spreading across entire crops.

“Once a plant is affected,” she said, “it (generally) remains infected for life.”

When that happens, she said there are only two real options: live with the disease, or pull the plants out.

Research in the new facility will use state-of-the-art equipment to test plant DNA, making diagnostics potentially faster.

MacAulay added that the Centre’s replacement came after collaborating with CFIA and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

“The scientific community felt that this the place to be,” he said. “They have the expertise. Plus, they are able to work with the universities and farmers here.”

The work, he added, will help contribute to Ottawa’s goal of reaching $75 billion in agriculture and food exports by 2025.

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