Producer groups that provide financial support to Agriculture Canada plant breeders and varietal development programs are urging Ottawa to continue important wheat and barley research activities at Agriculture Canada’s research stations across Western Canada this year.
“Urgent action is required to save the 2020 AAFC’s field, lab and greenhouse activities for wheat and barley research projects,” the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC) and the Canadian Barley Research Coalition (CBRC) said in an April 22 news release.
Agriculture Canada’s farmer-funded variety development work is critical to the competitiveness of Canada’s agriculture industry, the joint news release said. Cancelling project activities that are critical to the development of new wheat and barley varieties will have a negative impact on the Canadian agriculture sector, it added.
“The impact of disruptions to this work needs to be considered on a project-to-project and program-to-program basis to minimize the loss of both future productivity and the potential contributions of previous projects.”
The two groups provide core funding to Agriculture Canada cereal breeding programs, as well as plant breeding and varietal development activities at Canadian universities, including the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre.
The CWRC is a collaboration of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, the Alberta Wheat Commission and the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association.
The CBRC is a collaboration of the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission, the Alberta Barley Commission and the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association.
The CWRC and the CBRC distribute research money that’s collected through producer checkoffs in the three prairie provinces.
Many of the producer-funded Agriculture Canada projects that are supported by the CWRC and CBRC are multi-year, multi-site projects that involve other researchers and outside co-operators. The CWRC and CBRC acknowledge that it is necessary to evaluate the level of risk associated with carrying out lab and field work during
the COVID-19 pandemic. To reduce risk, safety protocols should be developed on a regional basis, they say.
Prairie universities have already established plans that will allow them to safely continue their research activities in 2020.
Private research institutions have also put plans in place to conduct field research this year with appropriate measures to ensure employee safety.
However, it is unclear whether Agriculture Canada projects will go ahead this year or whether they will be scaled back or postponed. “We are facing an unprecedented situation with respect to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the safety of researchers and other staff is our top priority,” said CWRC chair Jason Lenz.
“The universities and private plant breeders have found safe options to conduct their research. We’re confident AAFC can also create a plan to continue critical research and provide clarity to western Canadian farmers. Added CBRC interim-chair Jason Skotheim, a barley grower from Spruce Home, Sask.: “As funders and partners in research, with a goal to support the agriculture industry, we will assist researchers wherever we can.…
“We are requesting that AAFC consult our member organizations to explore opportunities, communicate contingency plans and discuss any potential required adjustments in contract terms and conditions as soon as possible.” The two groups said they remain committed to minimizing the impact of the pandemic on the current and future success of the industry while maintaining appropriate measures to ensure health and safety.