By Tim Kalinowski
Over the month of January Alberta Agriculture and Forestry will be conducting seven farmer-led research engagement sessions in various parts of the province to come up with some sort of focus or model of delivery going forward, says acting assistant deputy minister for primary agriculture Sean Royer, whom Ag-Matters caught up with at the Jan. 13 Lethbridge session.
“What we’re talking about is the future of research in agriculture,” Royer states, “and specifically what the industry would like to see for farmer-led research … We are hoping to get some good direction on farmer-led research. What does that mean? What do people think of when they have that? What are our research priorities that we want to talk about? And more importantly, what’s the deliver model that makes most sense? That’s what we’re hoping to get out of these sessions.”
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has been touting the potential of farmer-led research since announcing it would be cutting funding to government-led agriculture research in last fall’s budget by about $32 million over four years— essentially chopping out a third of the money spent on such research grants in the past.
“I wouldn’t connect the two,” says Royer. “Farmer-led research is really about ensuring that farmers are leading the objectives when it comes to the kind of priorities we fund. And it’s also about making sure the research objectives reflect business objectives. That’s really what it is about. The budget exercise is a bit of a secondary exercise (to this).”
However, Royer does acknowledge farmer-led research also means, in the government’s mind, having the ability to leverage more private industry dollars to help fund agricultural research in the province going forward.
“We are looking for more dollars to leverage,” he states. “Traditionally, the government has funded a lot of primary research, and the more we can get commercial dollars to leverage that the better. It’s really about building a sustainable system. We have funded a lot of research in the past, but going forward with the kind of constraints we are looking at that is not necessarily sustainable. We’re looking for partners that will help us fund the kind of priority research we want to do.”
Similarly, Royer says applied research associations will have a stronger role to play in conducting the field trials for these farmer-led research priorities. He acknowledges that those associations do not have the capacity to fully take up the slack if government-led research pulls back. He also admits he is hearing that those associations essentially haven’t had any increase in their core funding from the province in nearly 20 years. He hopes to hear more from those groups at a stakeholder meeting set for Jan. 27.
“That might be part of the input we get coming out of these sessions,” he admits. “We might hear some of that. But it’s a matter of what we do with that. We’re hearing that. We’re hearing that people are looking for more funding, but there is always a need for more funding. The real question is not what we’re doing, and the kind of research, it’s how we are going to fund it. That’s what today (in Lethbridge) is about. So how do we make that work? How do we get partners to work with us so we can get more funding in the priority areas? It can’t be all government. We’re looking for other partners.”
For those who cannot attend one of the Farmer-Led Research Engagement sessions in person, but would still like to have your input, an online survey on this subject will be available until Jan. 31 at www.alberta.ca/farmer-led-research-engagement.aspx.