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Investing in the past benefits future

The Western Producer – In times of budgetary constraints, governments look for savings that will not raise significant concerns or cause major problems.

The victim is often the past because it is not seen as a front line issue.

Two recent examples have raised concerns in the scientific community about how to deal with agricultural research.

The first was the closure of the agriculture research library at Agriculture Canada’s research centre in Lethbridge.

The centre, which was created in 1906, has been instrumental in advancing agriculture research.  Its library was reported to serve 48 scientists with Agriculture Canada, 85 technicians and many visiting staff and students.  It is not the first federal science library to close as a result of cuts, but the scientific community was more vocal in condemning the closure and raising concerns about its impact.

The second example was the decision by the federal government to lease 60 acres of Agriculture Canada’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa to the Ottawa Hospital for a dollar a year.

In this instance, the issue is that the land has been worked on for decades and there is fear that valuable information may be lost.  The decision was made without consulting the appropriate parties, and some scientists were not informed of the decision until the announcement.

The Agricultural Institute of Canada does not want to debate the merit of these decisions, but rather raise concerns about the process.

These decisions were made with little to no consultations and no known involvement from the scientific community. That is an issue.  This needs to be considered in the future when actions directly affect important work that researchers are conducting.

For the sake of transparency, it is important when making decisions like these that we use fair and open processes that are well documented and include stakeholder in-volvement. This is particularly true when the decision may be an unpopular one or may be met with hostility. At least there would be an understanding of how the decision was made.

In both cases, there was little or no stakeholder involvement, no transparent process and now a lot of concerns from a variety of groups.

The Agricultural Institute of Canada was created in 1920 as a centre of knowledge for science in agriculture.  The old adage of “look to your past to see where you’re going” is more important than ever.  Our organization has seen much change over the last 95 years and advocated on behalf of agricultural researchers throughout Canada.

We call upon all parties, including federal, provincial and municipal governments, to hold open and transparent consultations with the community, including researchers, before finalizing deals that significantly affect future agricultural research.

View the article in The Western Producer here.