Alberta’s new vision for ag research

Alberta is embarking on a bold new direction in agriculture research where the spending priorities will be set by producers who grow the crops and raise the livestock. It’s a model like none other you will find anywhere in Canada.

On March 30, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen announced a new vision for provincial agriculture research following a series of consultations with farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders throughout the province. The process revealed that producers, in collaboration with other partners, including scientists, educational institutions and private industry, are better positioned than government officials to determine research priorities.

At the core of the plan is the creation of Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), a non-profit, producer-led company that will operate at arm’s length from the government of Alberta. This new organization will determine and fund industry-wide research priorities to enhance producers’ competitive advantage.

I am proud to chair the interim board of directors of RDAR, which is currently in its formative stages. Our board consists of a broad cross-section of respected individuals from livestock and crops boards and commissions, applied research associations, farm organizations, academia and individual producers.

Our goal is to incorporate the new company by the fall of 2020 and we have been extremely busy, holding eight board meetings since April 1. At our meeting in Red Deer on July 6 the board adopted two founding principles:

Mandate: To support results-driven research priorities and programs that will increase competitiveness and profitability of the Alberta agriculture industry.

Vision: Alberta’s agriculture and food sectors achieve their full potential through producer-led, strategic investments in research and innovation.

RDAR will be entrusted with investing $37 million per year in agriculture research funding. We are currently being funded through a $2 million Canadian Agricultural Partnership grant administered by the Alberta Barley Commission until the new company is incorporated.

Our initial goals reflect a collective commitment to providing maximum benefit to producers and leveraging opportunities with public, private and producer funders.

One of our first priorities has been to consult early and often with the key players in agriculture research in Alberta — and some beyond our borders.

Working with our interim management team led by chief executive officer Gerald Hauer and consultants with deep experience in the sector, we have hosted 10 separate webinars with more than 250 participants to gauge the views of our partners on issues such as: the core focus areas of our funding, how far up the value chain we should invest, our philosophy on investing beyond our borders and the makeup of the permanent board and advisory committee, to name a few.

Change can be intimidating, but it’s also an opportunity for a new beginning. The RDAR board has embraced that challenge and we look forward to the startup of the new company.

David Chalack is interim board chair of RDAR, a veterinarian from the Calgary-Cochrane area and a Canadian Agriculture Hall of Famer. Chalack has held numerous chair positions including the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, and is the former president and chair of the Calgary Stampede. He has also developed international experience in his roles at Alta Genetics Inc.

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