“There just simply isn’t the return in cereals and pulses under our system to spur private research at the levels necessary.”
– DOUG ROBERTSON, ALBERTA GRAIN FARMER AND GGC PRESIDENT
More basic agriculture research and improved trade deals will go a long way toward helping Canadian farmers be competitive internationally, farm groups say.
Grain Growers of Canada is organizing a coalition with Quebec commodity groups, the Ontario Grains Group and the Western Grains Research Foundation to push Ottawa for more public research, GGC president Doug Robertson told the Commons agriculture committee March 24.
“We want to formally raise awareness and ensure that resources are committed to public research,” he said. “The private sector does make substantial investments in corn and in soybeans and in canola. But there just simply isn’t the return in cereals and pulses under our system to spur private research at the levels necessary. Crops like wheat, barley, oats and peas must have public research as their chief research base.”
Producers are already doing their share, he said. “In many cases producers have checkoffs on those crops and they’re very willing to contribute to research funding, but we need the federal government to step up and be an even bigger partner in this critical area of competitiveness.”
Basic agronomics “has suffered the most neglect at a time when our seeding techniques are fundamentally different now with low-or no-till seeding than they were 20 years ago,” he added, and practices such as “fertilizer placement, cereal pulse rotations, optimizing fertilizer and chemical use for both environmental reasons and economic reasons are critical to the long-term sustain-ability of agriculture.”
Furthermore, he said, “there is a serious concern that when the current group of plant breeders retire, they’re not going to be replaced and their programs will die out with them. Before we lose these experts we must have their replacements working under them or agriculture R+D in Canada will falter and take years to be rebuilt.”
Spending on the maintenance of existing facilities has been cut back and in some cases we have new facilities but there is no funding for lab equipment, he said.
Darcy Davis, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, said the government must “remain committed to trade liberalization and the implementation and maintenance of a rule-based trade arena.
Almost 80 per cent of total farm cash receipts come from export-dependent commodities, he said. “In every province, including Ontario and Quebec, the majority of farm gate receipts are now derived from export-dependent products. We have built an industry that relies on trade. Without it, our agriculture and food production sectors would contract significantly.
“We need international markets and we need a transparent and fair set of rules to govern our trading activities.”
A new World Trade Organization agreement is essential for Canadian livestock and grain sectors, in terms of eliminating export subsidies, reducing trade-distorting support and expanding export access, CAFTA told the committee, but said it’s all the more important with countries using the global recession to erect barriers to imports.
“Since the beginning of the global financial crisis, countries, including 17 G-20 members, have implemented 47 protectionist trade measures. Another 19 measures have been proposed but are not yet implemented,” Davis said.
“This trend, which extends beyond agriculture, is worrisome. The World Bank has cautioned that as the global recession continues there is every risk that countries will begin to raise tariffs to bound levels or utilize unused subsidy room to help support their domestic industries.”
Davis welcomed the beginning of free trade negotiations with the European Union but any deal must be comprehensive. “We encourage the government to adopt a broad negotiating mandate for all agriculture products and to ensure that nothing is excluded at the start of the negotiations.”
Robertson added that Ottawa should get on with its “smart regulations” initiative. Regulations that add either unnecessary costs or time for approval processes simply discourage innovation and innovation is key to our competitiveness in Canada.