Alta. research group to set priorities

Alberta’s agriculture and forestry minister said he wants the new Results Driven Agriculture Research group to decide on priorities rather than have government drive the agenda.

Devin Dreeshen said June 30 that the group, appointed in May, is making progress on its mandate to prioritize research projects that directly benefit farmers and ranchers.

“It would be our hope that we could transition away from the department of agriculture and forestry directly picking these research projects to having RDAR prioritize and to take it from there,” said Dreeshen, while attending a funding announcement at Lethbridge Exhibition Park.

The future of provincial agriculture researchers remains unclear. However, the most recent budget indicated plans to lay off or terminate more than 200 agriculture department employees, many involved in research and support roles.

Those staff reductions were initially planned for April but have been delayed in part due to COVID-19 considerations and negotiations involving the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

About 50 non-union department staffers, many involved in research and extension, were terminated in December 2019.

“We don’t want as a government to preclude how, at the end of the day, if a researcher is going to be wearing a Government of Alberta hat or a Lethbridge College hat or whatever hat they may be wearing,” Dreeshen said, when asked if government researchers would be retained.

“We’re focused on the prioritization of the research. We want whatever public dollars are being put into agricultural research, we want that research to be farmer led, to actually be relevant for farmers and something that directly benefits them.”

The province has earmarked $37 million toward RDAR and its research plans, which are expected to be outlined this fall.

RDAR, described as a non-profit, arms-length ag research organization, is led by interim board chair David Chalack, with former Alberta chief veterinary officer Gerald Hauer as interim chief executive officer.

Other members are Brian Otto, Tom Steve, Kelly Smith-Fraser, Nichole Neubauer, Stanford Blade, Matt Sawyer, Melissa Downing and Vance Yaremko.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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