Partners pool $90M to fund food, fish research

Proposals sought | Western Grains Research Foundation contributing $5 million to assist crop production projects

Genome Canada is looking for scientists to help boost Canada’s understanding of the genetic resources available to the agriculture, agri-food, fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

The organization, in partnership with the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), announced June 16 that it would entertain requests for funding to support research projects that “create new knowledge, … inform public policy for Canada’s agri-food and fisheries and aquaculture sectors and (lead to) solutions that can help feed the world’s growing population.”

Approximately $90 million will be invested over four years in large-scale projects, each worth $2 to $10 million.

Genome Canada will invest $30 million, while WGRF will contribute $5 million.

The rest of the funding — about $55 million — will be obtained through co-funding from other sources, such as industry partners, governments and non-profit organizations.

Successful proposals will be selected next year through a peer review process.

WGRF’s contribution will be used to support projects that are specifically aimed at enhancing crop production and benefitting western Canadian farmers.

“That’s one of the main criteria that our board uses is, ‘will this research benefit western Canadian farmers,’ ” said executive director Garth Patterson.

He said board members saw the opportunity to collaborate with Genome Canada as a key partnership that has the potential to benefit prairie farmers in many ways.

The foundation’s money will likely support two to three major projects that lead to the development of better crop varieties, the discovery of new genetic resources, the introduction of improved traits in common agricultural crops or the identification of new plant breeding tools and enhanced plant breeding processes.

“Genomics work is that background science that helps breeders either discover traits or bring out better varieties,” Patterson said.

“We’re really pleased that Genome Canada approached us and that they saw us as a good partner.… I think farmers are going to come out ahead on this.”

WGRF will have an opportunity to review all projects seeking Genome Canada support and decide which projects receive WGRF funding.

Patterson said the foundation will consider supporting any non-GMO project that deals with crops grown in Western Canada.

“It could be a canola related (project), it could be any oilseed, or cereal or pulse crop or specialty crop,” he said.

“We haven’t set any other criteria that would narrow it down to any specific crop type.”

Genome Canada said in a June 16 news release that the agriculture sector has relied heavily on traditional food production practices to increase productivity.

However, these methods are reaching the limits of their capacity for increasing yields.

Future increases will hinge on the industry’s ability to increase its knowledge of genetic resources.

“Genomics and genomic-related technologies in the agri-food and fisheries and aquaculture sectors can play a strong role in boosting food production and international trade, raising nutritional value, reducing spoilage and ensuring food safety both in Canada and globally,” said Genome Canada president Pierre Meulien.

“Canada is well positioned to be a global leader in providing solutions in these areas, which are urgently needed to meet the projected doubling of world food demand by 2050.”

Genome Canada says knowledge is increasing dramatically about the genetic makeup and gene functions of plants, livestock and fish and how these genes interact.

Enhancing this knowledge can lead to innovative new products and processes that deliver economic and social benefits to Canadians.