University barley research ad gets pulled, vice-president steps down

A university vice-president has removed herself from the post-secondary institution due to an advertisement that raised many eyebrows throughout Edmonton.

As part of its Truth Matters campaign, the University of Alberta launched a wide range of ads that tackled everything from the effects of sexting in a relationship, storing solar energy, climate change, and more. This campaign was to highlight research being conducted at the university and to encourage discussion.

The billboard ad in question had the slogan, “Beefier barley”  with text below reading, “Climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.” The billboard was located near 178 Street and 100A Avenue in west Edmonton, Alta.

In a statement issued by a university spokesman, the ad has caused “serious concerns” with the public, and the institution has decided to pull the ad as soon as possible.

“The research highlighted by the ad does not promote climate change as a benefit; nor was that the meaning intended by the ad. However, public response has made clear that the advertisement’s wording fails to communicate the meaning and complexity of the research, allowing for easy misinterpretation,” the statement read.

Due to the outrage from people, and the fact that someone from the executive team would have had to approve the ad, the vice-president of university relations, Jacqui Tam announced she was leaving her position.

“The messaging on the ad called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question. As vice-president (of university relations), I apologize for this and take responsibility,”a statement said.

Alberta Wheat and Barley commission react to the news

The general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission says when he first saw the ad, he was surprised at the oversimplification of the peer reviewed study. Tom Steve added that the university has actually been promoting this research for a few years.

No matter the crop, he says, there are going to be various impacts of climate change and that the message he hopes the general public would know more about, is the understanding of the both positive and negative impacts. However, in this particular social environment where the main message about climate change is the catastrophic impacts, the positive ones are a tough sell.

“That’s what this study attempted to get at, was, what would be the impact of the increase in temperatures and potentially increasing moisture levels in the northern areas of Alberta,” Steve says. “The conclusions were that it would potentially be beneficial to the barley crop in particular and even in southern areas where it would be potentially warmer and dryer, because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, it would potentially require less irrigation because plants obviously thrive on CO2.”

Steve also pointed out the University of Alberta turned a blind eye when farm groups rallied together to decry David Suzuki, an avid climate activist, as a recipient of an honorary doctor of science degree.

“We’re always happy to have attention on our crop, but in this particular case, it went a little bit too far in terms of the conclusions of the study which are quite balanced,” Steve says. “I’m not sure, at least from our perspective that it justified a the departure (of Ms. Tam).”

Listen to the full interview between RealAgriculture’s Jessika Guse and Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission’s Tom Steve below:

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