Government support for agricultural innovation vital

With the agriculture policy framework up for renewal, 2018 promises to be a critical year for the future of research

The federal government has been applauded by leaders in agriculture, research, and agribusiness up and down the value chain for the promises contained in the 2017 federal budget, released just over two weeks ago.

The government’s goal is to increase Canada’s agri-food exports to at least $75 billion annually by 2025. With such an ambitious target, it’s encouraging to see that funds will be specifically directed toward innovation. The government has earmarked $70 million over six years to support agricultural research, innovation, and discovery science. This is up from last year’s commitment of $30 million over six years toward ag research.

In our increasingly globalized world, the competitive edge is razor thin. Future commitments on the part of both the federal and provincial government toward innovation will be crucial to the growth of the sector.

Existing funding agreements already illustrate the benefits of injecting resources into research and innovation. Growing Forward 2, for example, has provided the sector with significant growth opportunities.

Take the experience of Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington, Ontario. Through Growing Forward 2 funding, this greenhouse operation has developed supplemental lighting systems that enable wintertime pepper harvests.

Ordinarily, such production would be impossible due to a lack of sunlight during Ontario winters. Research like this benefits the whole sector, increasing farm profitability, food security, and operational efficiencies. It also benefits the consumer by putting Canadian produce on Canadian plates year round.

Looking forward, 2018 will be an important year for the future of ag research. We look to the upcoming new policy framework for the ag sector, which will shape federal-provincial funding priorities for the future. Fortunately, one of its major objectives is the goal of “enhancing competitiveness and strengthening competitive advantages by advancing science and innovation capacity and encouraging the adoption of products, practices and processes.”

Let’s hope the federal budget’s current show of support for innovation in agriculture will positively influence the outcome of these future agreements. Continued research funding is vital to the flourishing of the agriculture sector and government investments in innovation will lead the way to greater success in the industry.

CFFO hopes to see both federal and provincial governments across the country continue to have a strong role in research and innovation within the agriculture sector. But no matter how significant government contributions are in this direction, industry and producer organizations still have a key role to play in seeking innovation through research and partnerships as well.

Marie Versteeg is manager of board and committee services for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.

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