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Farmers Want More Research Spending

Groups representing more than 100,000 crop growers are launching a campaign to push for more investment in agricultural research in Canada.

Called Farmers for Investment in Agriculture (FIA), the campaign wants Ottawa to at least reverse the 40 per cent decline in public research funding for agronomics that has occurred since 1994. Inflation and less government support has caused “a serious loss of both research infrastructure and scientists” working on basic agriculture research.

Over 100,000 Canadian farmers are represented by FIA, which is backed by Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Fédération des producteurs de culture commerciales du Québec, the Atlantic Grains Council and the Grain Growers of Canada.

The proposal should resonate with Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. A couple of months after he was appointed agriculture minister, Ritz said restoration of the importance of science and technology in agriculture would be one of his priorities. “I believe that investing in science and innovation is important for a more prosperous and sustainable agriculture sector.”

Under his watch, the federal government has supported targeted research projects but not done much for basic research called for by FIA. That kind of work has fallen to university professors if they can find research grants.

FIA wants that to change. “Agriculture as an industry turns every dollar of research investment into a $10 economic benefit for Canada through the growth of the domestic food sector, increased exports and lower food costs,” said William Van Tassel, vice-chair of the Quebec farm group.

FIA says most industrialized countries are making huge investments in agronomic research to respond to a growing world food demand. “The government must develop a national strategy on agriculture that puts the needs of Canadian farmers at the top of its list,” said Don Kenny, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

FIA wants Ottawa to double core agronomic research over the next 10 years. The proposal would bring funding back to 1994 levels by 2020. By increasing research funds, Canadian farmers would gain a competitive edge in the global market and help stimulate the struggling Canadian economy. It says studies have shown that agronomic research yields benefits for the country equal to 40 to 60 per cent of the cost.

“There is no better investment for Canada than an investment in food,” adds Doug Robertson, president of the Grain Growers of Canada. “We have some of the most fertile farmland in the world with access to the third-largest supply of the world’s fresh water and we are not maximizing our crop production.”

Research is more important today than it has ever been. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that global agriculture must grow by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed an additional 2.3 billion people.

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