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AIC vows quick action on policy

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.