October 23rd, 2020

Farmers to decide research priorities

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 19, 2019.

Devin Dreeshen


Our government was elected to get Alberta’s fiscal house in order, through targeted spending reductions and eliminating unnecessary spending.

Alberta is on track to be more than $90 billion in debt, currently paying $2 billion per year in interest payments alone. This is irresponsible intergenerational debt. This burden on future generations of Albertans and their children is unacceptable. That is why our government is taking action, and Agriculture and Forestry is aiming to streamline its budget by $365 million over four years. In doing so, we will pay off one-fifth of our annual interest payments.

Agriculture and Forestry is on track to implement key priorities that also support our responsible path to balance by 2022-23.

Alberta’s agriculture sector’s long-term success relies on research, environmental stewardship and industry development.

Over the summer I travelled across the province consulting with farmers and ranchers on how to repeal and replace the NDP’s former Bill 6 with the Farm Freedom and Safety Act.

In addition to talking about farm safety, farmers and ranchers gave their opinions on farmer-led research priorities. Many of them supported the idea especially compared to the NDP’s previous “government-led research priorities” focus. The agriculture sector prioritizes and is looking forward to consulting on how to achieve better research outcomes.

This is an incredible opportunity to reform how we do research and attract investment from the private sector. We are looking to farmers, applied research organizations, commodity groups and academia to work together to build programs that achieve world-leading research outcomes.

Starting in December, we will consult with farmers and ranchers to determine their research priorities and determine whether government should deliver research directly, or strategically fund it. My goal is to achieve world-leading agricultural research being done right here in Alberta. I envision leveraging research that is already happening in existing facilities and attracting private-sector investment to build new ones.

We campaigned on promoting and growing agriculture, and we will deliver on that promise.

Industry-input will be important to help shape this reformed research strategy development.

Alberta’s farmers are some of the most innovative in the world. We are ensuring they have access to high-quality agricultural research, education and technology. Ultimately, the research that farmers want in agriculture should be farmer-led and not government-led.

Under the previous government, agencies directing research were disbanded because of the NDP ideology.

During that time, Alberta received a D-grade from the Conference Board of Canada’s innovation report card for research and development. While comparing Alberta to other provinces and 15 other countries, Alberta also received an overall D-grade for early stage R&D support, patents, and venture capital investment.

There is obviously room to improve.

With Budget 2019, members of the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta will have more access to government funding for agricultural research projects by applying for Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) grants. There will be more programs available under CAP for projects, and we are increasing funding by $2 million specifically for research.

We will work with farmers and ranchers to address long-term research needs and build programs that support them. This is an incredible opportunity to reform how we do research and attract investment to Alberta. Agriculture only grows through innovation and we want to accelerate it with the best research programming in the world.

Devin Dreeshen is the provincial Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

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Focusing on research only targeted at boosting the bottom line for farmers without consideration for impact of a changing climate on agriculture together with cutting ag research spending by over $34 million is a recipe for disaster.

Moreover, redirecting to industry-led research is another way of stating producers will be left to pay for research bills themselves.

Agriculture, including food processing and related industries are the second largest contributor to Alberta’s economy.

Raises the question as to why $30 million dollars was not directed towards the establishment of an Agricultural War Room, given this year’s harvest outcomes in the Peace Country, Central Alberta and the sugar beet harvest failure locally.