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It's time for policy direction in agricultural research

While the agricultural community is interested, engaged and eager to begin developing an agricultural research policy, we have observed that, to date, the politicians are absent from such discussions.

The Hill Times - July 20, 2015 - Agriculture has, in the past few years, taken a back seat to other issues. Research and scientists rarely make it to the top of the political agenda. Agricultural research is not expected to be one of the things that politicians discuss while knocking on doors in the next few months.

However, considering all of the hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cobs and fresh salads that our politicians will consume in the coming months along the campaign trail, one could reasonably think that consumers would want to better understand what is at stake in our food chain.

There are many current issues that Canadians care about, but they rarely associate them with "agricultural research":

Food safety, nutrition and contributions to human health

Climate change and its impact on crops

Soil conservation and remediation (after mining projects, drilling, etc.)

Development of new plant and animal products and uses

We need to start looking at these issues, and others, through a different lens. And that starts by having a serious discussion about agricultural research: its future in Canada, its direction, the stakeholders, and its funding.

We have a changing agricultural landscape.

Producers are now assessing global trends and markets by, amongst other things, looking at grain and oilseeds futures from the Chicago Board of Trade, using new technology such as geolocation tools to plant their crops, and accessing the latest information available to determine what to feed their livestock.

But while most recognize that agriculture has changed, agricultural research still has a perception of not being relevant and is easily dismissed.

Already, very few remember that Canadian scientists (one working for the federal government and the other with the University of Manitoba) developed the edible oilseed plant we know as canola in the early 1970s. Why is this relevant? A study commissioned by the Canola Council of Canada and funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada concluded that canola contributed about $19.3-billion per year to our economy in 2011-2012. It means jobs and exports. It is important for Canada.

Canola is one bright example, but the relevance of agricultural research-direct and indirect-is far-reaching. With over 2.1 million people employed in Canada in the agriculture and agri-food system (according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 2013), it is important to ensure that the agri-food system has the necessary resources to continue the research that will keep it sustainable, competitive and rewarding for all involved.

Governments have understood the importance of research and innovation. But that has mostly been for the manufacturing, high-tech, automobile industry, and natural resources sectors. There is no real "common strategy" related to agricultural research. There’s no "policy" that provides guidance and direction and that can be used to measure progress.

Progress cannot be measured by the amount of money spent in one place or another. The number of people employed or the number of organizations that have received funding are not the measures of success.

We need to develop short and long-term objectives that are realistic and can be implemented.

Recently, researchers, academics, representatives from commodity groups, government officials and other stakeholders gathered in Ottawa to look at the development of a modern agricultural research policy.

We are all aware that there are competing interests for a dwindling public purse. Health care, education, economic development and security are at the top of the agenda. Therefore this policy will not be a call for more resources-governments will decide, based on needs and public priorities, what is available to support agricultural research in the future.

What we need is for research funding to become more effective. For example, how do we develop public-private-partnerships and include a possible role for producers? What steps should we take to broaden the horizons of interdisciplinary research, to allow more cross-pollination between subject areas? How can we best use pure and applied research to benefit our agricultural sector as a whole?

A policy must be more than a stale piece of paper. If opinions are carefully considered, it is well drafted and properly communicated, it can and will be a useful tool; otherwise it will join the numerous policies that have been relegated to recycling bins and provide only lip service to their respective sectors.

An agricultural policy that will provide a framework and guidance for the future will be useful if we're able to get all stakeholders to agree. It can also be useful if it is used to measure progress.

While the agricultural community is interested, engaged and eager to begin developing such a policy, we have observed that, to date, the politicians are absent from such discussions.

We hope that, while eating their hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cobs and fresh salads while out on the hustings, they will spend a bit of time reflecting on how we get our food, how we can sustain our agricultural industry and what needs to be done to improve research and retain the top researchers in our country.

Lianne Dwyer is chair of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, which hosted its national policy conference in Ottawa last week.

To access the article click here.

Agriculture researchers aim to put sector on election agenda

July 15, 2015 - Canada needs a long-term research policy with stable funding for its agriculture sector - an issue that must be raised by politicians in the upcoming federal election campaign, scientists and policy advocates say.

The pending national agriculture-based research strategy - which included consultations with 1,000 different stakeholders - comes as farm groups continue to push for agriculture to be an agenda issue in the upcoming federal election.

"Agriculture has disappeared from the frontline," Serge Buy, CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, said Tuesday when asked why the final research policy will be released September 9 - just weeks before the writ is expected to be dropped.

"If you look at the budget that was presented in March, very little was said about agriculture," Buy said, adding that the sector rarely discussed in Ottawa.

"What we hope for is within the agricultural community there will start to be a dialogue…and some of the people opening their doors will start asking politicians questions."

The Agriculture Institute of Canada is an organization designed to defend the sector's research agenda by pushing for stable, long-term funding and ensuring agriculture research is included in ongoing policy discussions.

To read more click here.

Warns Feds Fail On Research

Source: Alex Binkley, Blacklocks

July 16, 2015 - The Department of Agriculture is losing ground in scientific research that made Canada a world wheat exporter, delegates have told an Ottawa conference. The criticism followed one industry report that concluded the nation "is slipping behind other countries" in agricultural science.

"Agriculture Canada should have a much stronger mandate for basic research," said Wilf Keller, president and CEO of Ag-West Bio Inc. of Saskatoon; "There is not enough funding to support university faculties. We're seeing a terrible waste of young brain power."

Cabinet has approved $468 million in five-year funding for its Agri-Innovation program and $230 million in subsidies for industry research. However delegates to an Agriculture Institute of Canada conference said government-led science has been impacted by budget cuts.

"Where are the long-term ideas going to come from?" Keller said. "We need a national system that rejuvenates the federal labs. We cannot depend on the universities to conduct all the research."

The agriculture department operates 19 research centres across Canada with some 400 scientists. One third are expected to retire within five years, according to a 2014 Cereals Canada White Paper On Research Innovation In Cereals.

"Relatively few scientists have been replaced in recent years," Innovation noted. “Several research centres have fewer than 20 scientists, a capacity that does not have enough core scientific strength to justify expensive research facilities"; "The existing research centre model will continue to decline in performance as science capacity shrinks and with time will become unsustainable."

The White Paper complained that “science funding has also shifted towards applied work with short time horizons,” and said Canada remains unique among wheat producers in "having very little private investment in wheat variety development": "Canada is slipping behind other countries such as those in Europe, Australia and the United States in cereal innovation," the paper said.

Prof. Robert Gordon, dean of the Ontario Agricultural College, told the Ottawa conference that investment in pure science is short: "Funding remains a challenge for us," Gordon said; "Research funding available to us is lower than for other sectors."

"Universities face a changing landscape trying to ensure we have the capacity to conduct research," said Gordon. "A single institution can't do it all and we have to partner with other institutions."

Dr. Clarke Topp, a soil physicist, said unless basic and commercial research is balanced "we will have a disaster" due to effects of climate change. "We don’t have a lot of time to waste," Topp said. "We need to be better equipped with the disaster coming down the road."

Cabinet in 2007 disbanded a federal Canadian Agricultural Research Council. Delegates noted a successor Science & Technology Innovation Council made no mention of agriculture in its key areas of targeted funding.

Ag Research Policy Poised to Enhance Canada's Prospects on International Scene

Ag Community Meets in Ottawa to Develop 21st Century Ag Research Policy

July 14, 2015 - As the Agricultural Institute of Canada's (AIC) National Policy Conference comes to a close, Canada's top agricultural researchers and experts from a variety of sectors have identified clear directions for the future of agricultural research in Canada.

"This is not your average eyes-glazing-over national policy," said Serge Buy, CEO of AIC. "Canada has the potential to regain its leadership on agricultural research issues. Research helps innovation, sustainability, productivity, safety and this in turn supports jobs, exports and our overall economy. That is what this agricultural research policy is all about."

AIC invited more than 1,000 academics, research groups, and organizations to provide their input on what should be included in a national agricultural research policy. A summarized document will be available on AIC's website and to members.

"There is a fundamental disconnect between the importance of agricultural research and the perception of that the public has about the need for this research. It's crucial that we make this reconnection," said Mr. Buy.

Through a coordinated approach that spanned sectors and included academics from across the country, participants discussed:

  • Scientific discovery and application: balancing pure and applied research
  • Interdisciplinary partnerships, collaboration and cooperation
  • Public-private partnerships

Read the full media release.

Ag research under the microscope

The Agricultural Institute of Canada looks at the implications of changing government support

Source: Alex Binkley, ONTARIO FARMER

Section: News Page: A23

The Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC) is hosting its first national policy conference this summer to take a hard look at what's happened to agriculture research in recent years and its future direction.

Governments have moved away from basic research to support applied research and partnerships with commodity groups to pursue marketable projects. AIC CEO Serge Buy says it's time to discuss what this means for the future of agriculture scientists in Canada.

The conference July 12-14 in Ottawa will focus "on how we move ahead during the next few years," he said in an interview. "While the research sector needs more funding, it also has to be clear on how the partnerships between the public and private sectors will proceed."

There remains a clear need for basic research to gain the knowledge that will translate into new products and farming techniques for the future, he added. "We want to focus on this issue during the conference. We hope there is a good debate on both side of the issue."

"We have to make sure that proper basic research is carried out in Canada"

The goal is to create an agriculture research policy over the summer that will be ready for release after the federal election in October.

The AIC aims to attract scientists, producers, government officials and businesses to the conference to create a policy for the 21st Century that will make Canada a leader in research standards for innovation and sustainability.

Buy says the Council has been examining itself to determine its mandate and future role. "We've really been looking at where agriculture is going."

Including individual and group memberships, the Council is in contact with several thousand people in the agriculture community.

"If Canadians - and our export markets - are to be able to derive food, bio-products such as renewable fuels and bio-materials, and environmental goods and services from agriculture, people with professional expertise and science from a broad array of disciplines are urgently needed - from agrologists, bioengineers, crop protection scientists to zoonotic disease specialists," the AIC says in a backgrounder on agriculture research.

"They may be soil or animal scientists, agronomists, food scientists, economists, geographers, farmers, geneticists, engineers, health professionals, public policy analysts, government regulators or business managers or owners. They may work in government, business, not-for-profits or academia."

"Collectively, they invest their intellectual capital to satisfy individual and societal demands of contemporary agriculture, for example from improving yields to discovering and extracting new value streams from agribased products.

"They all share a common science-based concern on how to increase the sustainable output from the agriresource base and how to ensure that the end-products derived from that resource meet consumer and societal needs. Now and into the future. Goods and services that are green, safe, and healthy. Products that make our lives richer."

Learn more about the conference and how to register here.

AIC's CEO Serge Buy gave an interview for The Western Producer about AIC 2015: Leading Innovation and Sustainability, our national policy conference taking place in Ottawa July 12-14. Read the article here:

AIC vows quick action on policy

The Western Producer - June 18, 2015 - The Agricultural Institute of Canada wants to have a national agriculture research policy in place by September. Chief executive officer Serge Buy conceded that the goal is ambitious, but he said he intended to use input from the July 12-14 national conference in Ottawa to establish clear directions for future agricultural research.

"I do know that whenever people mention national policy and on top of that add another two words, (agricultural research), eyes start shutting," said Buy. "I think this is where we want to be a little bit more concrete in what we're looking for. The intention is to have, following this conference, a very good base to provide leadership and a framework to both governments and researchers, as well as the private sector."

Buy said the organization was created in 1920 to develop a national agricultural research policy.

"I know things move slowly in Ottawa, but still," he said about the decades long timeline.

The institute prepared for the meeting by consulting with more than 600 organizations, academics, research groups and scientific societies.

Buy said the input will be summarized in a document made available to those at the national conference. Attendees will add their own opinions to the mix.

"We won't make judgment calls," he said. "We'll just provide summaries of what we've heard for people at the conference to debate."

Buy said Canada was once at the forefront of agricultural research, but that is no longer the case, even though its scientific discoveries have helped farmers and ranchers to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiency.

The reasons for that are many.

"I think there is a disconnect between the public and agriculture," he said. "There's a disconnect between the agriculture community and the researchers and there's a disconnect between the research that is done and the government."

Limited funding is often cited as a reason for reduced research, but Buy said discussions will have to go beyond that or efforts to establish a policy will be doomed to failure.

"The thought process should be a little bit longer than, 'until the next budget' or 'until the next election,' " he said.

"I think there needs to be a little bit more of a general vision, and I think the vision should also be developed upon consultation."

The conference agenda promises to tackle controversial issues, such as applied versus pure research. Buy noted governments tend to fund applied research because of its faster, more tangible results.

That reasoning has merit but pure research has its place too, Buy added. It might be useful to better inform people of historical examples where pure research has led to major breakthroughs.

"I think there is room for both, and I think there needs to be a better connection with both," he said. "And they need to be better explained to Canadians as well."

Stability is needed in agricultural research so that Canada can retain and attract scientists. Buy said the looming retirement of many researchers and an apparent lack of replacements will also be a discussion topic.

Suggestions that the government is muzzling federally funded scientists might also affect newcomers' interest in the field, he added.

"I personally don't believe that there is any conspiracy theory to muzzle scientists," he said. "I do believe that there are very young staffers in Ottawa that may not understand that letting some people talk about things is a good thing for Canada and the government, and I think that needs to be addressed."

Canadians interested in attending the conference can still register. More information is available here.

The article can be viewed in The Western Producer here.

Media Release

Agricultural Institute of Canada Recognizes National Public Service Week

Ottawa, ON - June 15, 2015 - As National Public Service Week is upon us, the Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC) is pleased to recognize the hard work done by public servants to support agricultural research in Canada.

Every day, Canada’s agricultural industry benefits from the work undertaken by the thousands of public servants, at both the federal and provincial levels, across Canada.

"Agricultural research is critical to a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector,” said Dr. Lianne Dwyer, AIC’s Chair of the Board of Directors. “Public servants that enable it are doing an important work that benefits us all."

AIC wants to recognize the hundreds of scientists that work in various settings from research laboratories to administrative offices in Ottawa and provincial capitals.

Often called upon to provide advice but seldom officially recognized, the work done by agricultural scientists and other public servants in the agriculture sector helps to further Canada's economic growth and feed all Canadians.

Read the full media release.


Registration is now open for AIC policy conference AIC 2015: Leading Innovation and Sustainability, taking place in Ottawa, July 12-14

Help us shape a modern agricultural research policy for the 21st century - one that places Canada on the map as a leader in research standards for innovation and sustainability in this important field of work. This fully bilingual conference in both of Canada's official languages is inclusive and participatory. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and work!

When:

July 12 opens with a welcome reception from 5-7 p.m.

July 13 & 14 conference plenaries and workshops

Where: Ottawa Marriott Hotel, 100 Kent Street, Ottawa, ON

Who should attend? researchers, academics, government and industry stakeholders from across Canada.

Click here to register now for $165.

Make sure you book your hotel room by June 19th to receive a special room rate of $155 plus taxes. Book your room here or call 1-800-853-8463, and quote conference ID Agriculture Institute of Canada (AIC).

Visit our conference webpage for more information.

L'inscription à la première Conférence nationale d'orientation de l'institut agricole du Canada, IAC 2015: À l'avant-garde de l'innovation et de la durabilité est maintenant ouverte. La Conférence se tiendra du 12 au 14 juillet 2015, à Ottawa.

Aidez-nous à façonner une orientation sur la recherche agricole moderne au 21e siècle, une orientation qui reconnait le Canada comme chef de file en ce qui concerne les normes de recherche en matière d'innovation et de durabilité dans ce domaine de travail important. Cetter conférence entièrement bilingue, dans les deux langues officielles du Canada, se veut inclusive et participative. Soyez prêt à retrousser vos manches et à travailler!

Quand:

Le dimanche 12 juillet, de 17 h 00 à 19 h 00, une réception de bienvenue ouvre la Conférence

Le lundi 13 juillet et le mardi 14 juillet, plénières et ateliers

Lieu: Hôtel Ottawa Marriot, 100, rue Kent, Ottawa

Qui devraient y assister? les chercheurs, les universitaires, les parties prenantes du gouvernement et de l'industrie, de partout au Canada.

Cliquez ici pour vouz inscrire maintenant pour 165 $.

Réservez votre chambre à l’Hôtel Ottawa Marriott d’ici le 19 juin et profitez d’un tarif spécial de 155 $, plus taxes. Réservez en ligne ici ou, composez le 1-800-853-8463 et mentionnez la Conférence de l’Institut agricole du Canada (AIC).

Pour en savoir plus, visitez notre page web pour la conférence.

PM Announces Public Service Changes

On Tuesday, January 6th, 2015, the Prime Minister's office announced that Dr. Siddika Mithani, Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of the Science and Techonology Branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), was posted to Environment Canada as the Associate Deputy Minister. We were later informed that Dr. Gilles Saindon takes over as the Interim Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of the Science and Technology Branch.

Dr. Saindon has had a long career with AAFC and defines himself as an "agriculture scientist". We welcome his appointment and look forward to working with him in the near future.

Happy New Year from AIC

The Agricultural Insitute of Canada wishes everyone a Happy New Year. As Canada is about to make choices in 2015, it is increasingly important to understand what is happening in our agricultural sector as well as the way agricultural research is being promoted, funded and managed in our country.

AIC will continue to be an unbiased source of information on agricultural research and voice for agricultural researchers and practitioners. We will continue to be an advocate for a strong, well funded and sustainable agricultural research model.

Media Release

Counterproductive gag on scientists hurts Canada's reputation

Ottawa, ON - October 8, 2014 - The Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC) is concerned about what a report produced by Simon Fraser University and Evidence for Democracy has revealed. The report alleges that scientists that work for the federal government are not able to speak freely about their work.

"Trying to stop discussions on topics like climate change and other important scientific topics will not make these issues disappear," said Serge Buy, CEO of AIC. "The government needs to encourage open and frank discussions on these important matters – even if they don’t like what's being said."

AIC believes that in order to maintain its reputation on the world stage, it is important for the federal government to foster working conditions that bring the best and brightest scientists to Canada.

If the government of Canada is to retain and attract the best and brightest scientists, it needs to create and support the ability for scientists to freely exchange information with their colleagues and share their research findings.

Agricultural research (including food production, safety and security) is a focal point for governments around the world. AIC has, since its inception almost a century ago, been an advocate of agricultural research and a proponent of the development of a strong, national agricultural research policy.

Read the full media release.

AIC's Chair, Lianne Dwyer, was a witness for the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry's study, Innovation in Agriculture: The Key to Feeding a Growing Population. Read the full report.

Drs. David Chanasyk and Michael Trevan were elected to the AIC Board of Directors at the Annual General Meeting on June 11, 2014. Read their bios and those of the other members of the Board for 2014-2015.

AIC Fellowship 2014

Congratulations to Dr. Ernie Barber, who received AIC's highest honour, the title of Fellow of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, at a dinner in Ottawa on June 11, 2014.


Read the AIC 2013 Annual Report.

Follow AIC on Twitter @aginstitute

Read the latest Gender Equality Mainstreaming Digest.

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Photo credit (above, centre):
S. Colvey, IDRC