The next golden era of ag innovation

Statistics Canada recently released the 2016 annual Net Farm Income statistics for the country.

Saskatchewan again led the country, as it has for the last five years running, accounting for $4.2 billion of the total $9.6 billion in realized net farm income. That is 44 percent of all the farm income in the country.

That’s not too shabby for a province that contains three percent of the country’s population, but perhaps to be expected because it has jurisdiction of more than 40 percent of the arable land in the country.

Numbers like this do not come about by accident and are not the result of fortuitous commodity prices alone, or the sometimes-smiling face of Mother Nature.

Consistent and stable net farm incomes only happen when supported by careful planning, excellent agronomic and business management on the part of producers and value chains that are intelligently designed and executed. As well, the industry must be governed within a trade policy and regulatory environment that lends itself to predictability and a high probability of success. Yet there is even more to it than all of these ingredients suggest.

The underpinnings of our success lie in the impressive history of innovative agri-science research and development.

The recent record of achievement in the development of public and private institutional research, development and commercialization capacity shows the origins of our success and where we will find our competitive advantages in the future.

The following list is not all inclusive, but it illustrates the willingness of various players and funders to help ensure agriculture’s success:

  • Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) — $50 million initiative at the University of Saskatchewan started by Nutrien as a private-public partnership to deliver sustainable food security for the world.
  • Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre — a $37 million initiative with funding from the federal government at the University of Saskatchewan that will drive innovation in plant breeding.
  • Natural Products Canada — Ag-West Bio is a founding member and Western Node for NPC, a $26 million centre of excellence for commercialization of research to bring natural products to market faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.
  • Protein Industries Canada — A $250 million innovation supercluster initiative to position Canada as the leading centre of high quality plant-based protein.
  • Diverse Field Crop Cluster — An Agriculture Canada and industry-led collaboration funding across seven diverse crops for a $26 million cluster to advance research to grow these crops into multibillion-dollar, value-added export opportunities.
  • Richardson Centre — $15 million invested in a 440-acre research farm near Richardson, Sask.
  • Bayer Wheat Breeding Research facility Saskatoon — $24 million invested into the research and development of new hybrid wheat technologies.
  • A&W $5 million investment in the U of S Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.

In addition, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture invests on average $30 each year for every man, woman and child in the province, more than $30 million annually, toward agriculture research and development opportunities.

As well, producers make substantial investments every year through check-off support to the tune of an additional $30 million annually.

All told, Ag-West Bio has measured ag bioscience public and private research and development investment in Saskatchewan in the range of $300 million annually.

To answer the initial question —are we entering a golden era of ag innovation and advancement — I argue that we are in the midst of a golden era of ag innovation and advancement, one that we have been collectively supporting and celebrating for more than 100 years; one that we have placed on a solid footing for the next 100 years.

Mike Cey is director of corporate initiatives with Ag-West Bio.

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