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Agricultural Research: Unknowingly Helping Canadians Everyday

Elected officials need to better understand the changing face of agriculture.

Dr. Lianne Dwyer in Embassy News

A study released in 2013 indicated that canola, grown in Canada, annually contributes $19.3 billion to the Canadian economy.  It was developed in the early 1970’s by Canadian researchers and continues to be improved.

That is just one example of what Canadian agricultural research has brought to our country.  Agricultural research has been one of the key ingredients in what has enabled Canada to become and remain an agricultural global powerhouse.

Agriculture employs 2.2 million Canadians, contributes annually $100 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product and Canada is the 5th agricultural exporter.  These statistics show the importance of agriculture in our country – something that was not really evident in the last election.

We were encouraged to see agricultural research mentioned by the three political parties in the last election.  But there has to be a greater discussion on the role of agriculture, what agriculture is today and the importance of research.

Agriculture has changed and the way it has changed needs to be recognized and supported.  Research and innovation have transformed the sector and continue to enable our country to create jobs and sustain employment.

There also needs to be a discussion on agricultural research and how governments, stakeholders and the research community can better work together to enable sustained growth.

The Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC), following extensive consultation with various stakeholders, developed an agricultural research policy.  The policy sets key objectives and provides recommendations that are geared towards strengthening agricultural research.  The policy looked at issues such as capacity in research, public-private partnerships, balance between pure/basic research and applied research, promotion of interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research.

We will further investigate the issue of the dissemination of agricultural research in our upcoming conference in April.

But the discussions can’t remain between researchers, farm groups, commodity groups, and other agricultural stakeholders.  These discussions need to involve elected officials.  They need to better understand the changing face of agriculture.  They need to take part in order to have the tools needed to evaluate and then decide on policies that will have an impact on agricultural research.  They need to visit the agricultural research and innovation hubs located in Saskatoon, Guelph, Laval, Winnipeg, Truro and other parts of the country.  Finally they need to invite discussions with the experts – the scientists, the academics and other stakeholders.

Good policy will come from good information.  And politicians need better information.

We were encouraged to see a focus on science in this new government.  Three ministers now have a responsibility with Ministers Lawrence MacAulay (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Kirsty Duncan (Science) and Navdeep Bains (Innovation, Science and Economic Development).

The mandate letters to these ministers were also encouraging.

And we look forward to the promised consultations, outreach to stakeholders and inclusion of the scientific community in the setting of direction for agricultural research priorities.

The end result needs to be clear and tangible: more clarity in the support of agricultural research and words followed by actions.

As Canada looks at a natural resource sector that has experienced significant decline in the past few years, it also needs to look at the evolving agricultural sector, the fact that it created jobs in the past few years – even during troubled economic times.

Agricultural research is part of the answer.  We just need elected officials to ask the questions.

View the article online here.