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Nova Scotia Commits $500K For Mink Industry Research

The provincial government is committing $500,000 to the mink industry in an effort to improve research and development.

The money will be put toward the establishment of a research team involving Dalhousie University’s faculty of agriculture and the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association.

Led by a research chair at the Bible Hill agricultural faculty, the team will look for solutions to the problems plaguing the mink industry.

Association president Matt Moses said genetics and disease are the biggest problem for mink farmers right now.

“Both financially, and with respect to farm management, Aleutian disease has been our biggest challenge for more than 50 years,” said Moses. “If we were able to pinpoint which segment of DNA within the animals determines their tolerance to the virus, that would be big.”

Aleutian disease is an extremely contagious virus causing kidney failure, miscarriage and death in minks.

Although there have been some promising leads, Moses said industry-wide solutions aren’t possible without further research.

“Research like this isn’t being done anywhere else in the world. It has potential global implications. We need more research on selection, we need more research on pen size and what’s best for these animals, and we need more research on nutrition.”

Furs are Nova Scotia’s largest agricultural export, bringing in $124 million in 2013. But last year, the industry suffered as the price of mink pelts dropped 60 per cent.

Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell said improved research can lead to significant economic benefits.

“We’re looking at efficiency feeding, and all kinds of different issues around the mink industry to make the pelts worth more. We’re trying to make the farms more profitable, even in a downturn of price.”

The association was also required to commit $500,000 to the project. Dan Mullen, the group’s former president and spokesman, said he’s optimistic about what they can do.

“The goal is to have a committee utilizing this partnership with Dalhousie. As researchers and projects come to this committee based on industry priorities, money can be divvied up, and researchers can take that money and leverage it for more money from other federal and provincial research programs.

“We’re hoping this provincial money can be tripled, or even quadrupled.”

David Gray, the faculty’s dean, is happy to be involved with the new project.

“The research will all take place here. We’re always committed to the development and improvement of agriculture in Nova Scotia.”

Jocelyne Rankin, freshwater co-ordinator at Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said she doesn’t think deeper research into the mink industry will help the environment or the province.

“In southwest Nova Scotia, the upstream sections of the watershed are most polluted and prone to blue-green algae growth. That’s because there’s a much higher concentration of mink farms in the area.”

When it comes to improving the mink industry, Rankin said she doesn’t think it’s worth it.

“I have a lot of challenge with this idea of more investment into this industry. It’s failing from an environmental standpoint, it’s very vulnerable to price fluctuations and it doesn’t seem to produce that much more revenue.”

Colwell said the industry’s environmental footprint isn’t the focus of this particular project. He said the 2012 amendments to the Fur Industry Act will force mink farms to clean up.

“That’s already been looked after in the program that’s in place now. They have to get their facilities in place or we’re shutting them down.”