By Rob Carnie
Having seen many parts of the world in his academic life, Dr. Peiqiang Yu chose the University of Saskatchewan as the place to build his distinguished career in animal feed research and development.
Today, the professor in the College of Agriculture's Department of Animal and Poultry Science is a highly respected researcher, with over 100 scientific publications to his name and dozens of speaking engagements at national and international conferences.
"I first came here in 2000 doing my federal NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council) postdoctoral fellowship in the field of animal metabolism and physiology," said Dr. Yu.
He quickly built a reputation for his work, and not long after was named the Chair for Feed Research and Development under the Strategic Research Program (SRP) administered by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF).
The SRP is a five-year, $16.5 million program that funds 17 research chairs in areas of strategic importance to the province. The goal of the program is to engage bright minds in agricultural research and development in Saskatchewan, adding value to the province's farm and food industry, improving its competitive position and furthering commercialization opportunities.
Given the importance of the livestock sector to Saskatchewan's overall agricultural economy, Dr. Yu's kind of expertise was a perfect match.
He now leads a research team of seven, studying areas such as feed science, processing and chemistry, ruminant nutrition and nutritional biochemistry. "My research includes two types of research - basic research and applied research," he said.
Basic research is part of Dr. Yu's mandate as an academic, building the body of knowledge in his field of study. For this part of his work, an invaluable tool at his disposal at the University of Saskatchewan is the Canadian Light Source synchrotron.
"We use the synchrotron for feed nutrition research," he stated. "We can use it to check things like protein change or structural change at the molecular level. Without the synchrotron, we can't do this kind of work."
The device has enabled Dr. Yu and his group to pioneer research in the field of animal feed and nutrition. "We are the only group in Canada to do this work, so it is quite unique. Each time I do a project, I try to find literature from other people who have done similar studies. For many of the types of work I'm doing, I can't find papers. When I get a result, I want to compare it with other people, but there are no published results out there."
Applied research includes the scientific work that is often requested and funded by the agricultural industry or producer groups. "We now have six feed companies that have asked us to help them develop new products or assist them to evaluate the products they have previously developed. These products are then marketed provincially, nationally and internationally. So we help them to investigate and capitalize upon commercialization opportunities," said Dr. Yu.
He offered an example of how his research as an SAF Chair can benefit the average Saskatchewan producer. "We do research to increase the protein availability in feed. Protein digests very fast in ruminants. When we use a certain treatment in the feed, we can reduce the protein degradation in ruminants. So we can do calculations on how various treatments change our results, and we can formulate the ruminants' diet accordingly," he said.
"The result is that we can produce a higher grade of feed, meaning less feed will be required for the same nutritional value, and the producer's feed costs will be reduced."
Dr. Yu's work is a prime example of how industry, government and universities can partner together to advance the entire agricultural sector.
"The government builds a position, then research funding comes from the industry, comes from the provincial funding agency, comes from the federal funding agency," said Dr. Yu. "Without the SAF chair position, I can't do this kind of job. So I think it's a very important and very useful investment for the whole province."