Innovation needs innovative plan

“Taking so much out of Agri-Stability and AgriInvest and investing so little of that back into innovation does not send a strong signal that governments are serious about innovation.”

— Ron Bonnett, president, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Sept. 28, 2012 WP

Who gave that man a crystal ball?

Well over a year ago, Ron Bonnett was expressing concerns about Growing Forward 2, which would reduce business risk management funding and theoretically improve innovation. A similar concern came from Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, who called the GF2 innovation agenda “undefined.”

Indeed, indications are that the federal government’s view of innovation is hardly in step with the rest of the industry.

In late November, Stephen Morgan Jones, Agriculture Canada’s top prairie research bureaucrat, warned at an Ottawa symposium that the country’s basic wheat research — along with the discovery component — is falling behind, competitively speaking.

He was referring to both public and private funding. It was interesting that Morgan Jones received support on the public funding side from a seriously invested industry guy.

Darcy Pawlik, head of cereals for Syngenta in North America, also argued that a stronger government commitment is necessary.

“Without public investment, we wouldn’t have the wheat program,” said Pawlik.

As if to add an exclamation point to their concerns, the National Re-search Council announced at the end of 2013 that it was eliminating 57 positions — 24 of them in aquatic and crop resource development. The NRC had previously announced that it was taking a new, more industry-focused approach to research, but it’s hard to see how that necessarily leads to fewer scientists — and how cutting science jobs lines up philosophically with an innovation agenda.

NRC did recently launch a $95 million wheat program, with costs shared by institutional and government partners, but it seems pretty clear the program may have a short shelf life if industry doesn’t come banging at the door.

If such reductions continue, will Canadian farmers struggle to compete without science to protect them from climate, pests and, indeed, their own BRM-averse government?

Perhaps we should ask Ron Bonnett, the man with the crystal ball.

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