Getting our research priorities right

Saskatoon recently hosted a meeting of some of the most important minds in Canadian wheat research.

A workshop was held that included public and private researchers from across Canada, farmers from coast to coast and Canadian exporters. Our goal was to move forward on the development of key priorities for Canadian wheat research.

Why is this important?

Federal and provincial governments are beginning the process of developing the next set of agricultural programming. A key focus of agricultural spending will be, innovation and research.

All governments need to know that scarce tax dollars are being spent in an effective manner. To give this assurance, the Canadian value chain needs to present governments with a clear strategic plan for research. We took a big step in that direction in Saskatoon.

It is not just governments that benefit from a strategic vision. Producers are funding about 30 percent of public research through their provincial checkoffs. This is a critical investment in the future of the industry.

A national strategic research plan will help provincial organizations achieve their own priorities and help ensure that their members’ needs are being met.

Strategic research must consider the fact that there are two customers for innovation.

Farmers must benefit from new varieties developed for Canadian growing conditions. If farmers don’t benefit, innovation will never make it to the field, and investment will be lost.

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But farmers are not the only customer for innovation. Research and variety development must also take into account the needs of end use customers. What do customers want to buy from Canada? What are those unique quality characteristics from Canada that gain a premium from both international and domestic customers?

This is why shippers and exporters were invited to participate and make a presentation to researchers.

Marketers provide a critical link back to the end use customer. It seems rather obvious that we must produce innovation that our customers want to buy if we are going to be successful. We cannot develop a strong plan for research without including the people who interact with our customers on a daily basis.

Research is about more than variety development. It also includes determining the agronomic practices that will get the most out of new developments and developing new ways to combat diseases and insects.

Strategic research includes collaboration across the country on extension and communication of research results. After all, the greatest advancement in the world will not mean much if it does not move out of the laboratory and into farmers’ fields.

The value chain is working on setting the key priorities in each of these critical areas.

Canada has a strong history of public research. Many parts of the country were opened to settlement because of public agricultural research. We should not forget this history and the lesson it teaches for the future.

However, public research is not carried out in isolation. Funding will flow into our industry if Canada can do a better job of co-ordinating public, private and producer investments than our competitors. We can become the first choice for investment opportunities if we ensure funding from each source is complementary.

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The recently announced partnership between Canterra Seeds, the Alberta Wheat Commission and Agriculture Canada serves as an example of new ways to bring forward innovation in Canada.

The new public-private-producer partnership takes advantage of the strengths of all three organizations, which results in additional investment in innovation and variety development in Canada and more choice for Canadian farmers. Successful strategic research planning will help foster more partnerships like this in the future.

Ensuring that cereal grains are profitable for all involved is the ultimate goal of strategic investments in innovation.

We want to see farmers choose to grow cereals because of strong profit margins.

We want to see investment in innovation flow into Canada and our cereals industry because of a strong return on this investment.

We want to see our customers coming back year after year because Canada consistently delivers what they want.

This is how long-run success will be measured.

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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