By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Funding for agricultural research and development has been slipping in Canada over the last two decades, a move that threatens the expansion of one of Canada’s largest industries.
That’s according to a report from the Agricultural Institute of Canada, an Ottawa-based, ag-focused think-tank, released in late July. Despite tremendous cost-benefit ratios on investment as high as 1:20, the sector sees “substantial and continued under-investment,” from both the private and public sector, the report said.
Investors “have to believe in that ratio,” said Dalhousie University’s Dean of the Faculty of Management, Sylvain Charlebois, a specialist in food systems in Canada. “The industry in general is not known to be unified. I suspect that doesn’t help much in terms of making sure that more and more research projects see the light of day,” he said. The research that does tend to get funding, he said, is “either applied research, or research that directly benefits certain groups.”
Canadian agriculture’s challenges for the future don’t stop there. Investment in research has slipped for the past two decades, and the report found that food processing companies innovate less than their counterparts in other industries. Part of the problem, Charlebois said, is that Canada doesn’t value intellectual property like other countries do. An attractive investment climate, he said, is “when companies see value in the research and that value can be commercialized.”
Farmers themselves face difficulties. Despite the wealth of new resources available to them, many farmers can’t access them because they lack high speed internet, according to the report.
Nor will there be enough of a next generation of researchers and specialists in ag to get new research from the farm. Post-secondary enrollments in ag programs have steadily increased over the last two decades but not by enough to meet projections of future demand.
The report noted five areas where Canada can make up for its innovation shortcomings:
• A system supported by a “science-based policy framework,” and “an enabling regulatory environment,” to promote research and adoption of innovations. Charlebois said Canada’s policy framework is generally science-based, but “you can’t get rid of human bias. It will always skew the science you base decisions on.”
• Funding mechanisms, “including matching investment strategies,” to entice investing companies and to suit sector needs.
• “An attractive climate for private investment in agriculture.”
• A research approach that allows everyone along the chain to weigh in, to ensure that the people for whom the research is intended will actually benefit from it.
• Offer grants and scholarships to encourage more students to study in ag related fields.