Progress is being made on building support for a national agriculture research and innovation strategy

  • National Newswatch

The federal and provincial governments need to be involved.Ottawa-Support for the development of a national strategy to expand agriculture research and innovation in Canada has grown quite a bit during the last two months, says Serge Buy, CEO of the Agri-Food Innovation Council (AIC).He's hoping for a meeting soon with Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and the opportunity to explain AIC's plan, announced last year, to the Commons agriculture and other committees. Having the federal and provincial governments supporting the project is vital.Getting public attention for it is a big challenge even with the importance of the agrifood sector to the country's economy and well-being. “We have to get the message across that this research will help us solve key problems.”While the federal government has given a lot of emphasis to research and innovation in Canada, the agrifood sector needs to have its own program and not be subsumed in other ones in which “no one will have an agrifood background,” Buy said. “We need to keep this visible and we need to have a good team.”Labour shortages throughout the food chain are a major challenge for the sector and one way to help solve would be increased automation in farming and food production. Also producing and processing fruits and vegetables Canada now mainly imports would help strengthen the country's food supply.“To do all this we need to develop a strategy,” Buy said. “Through innovation, new jobs can be created.” Alberta Innovates and the Deans' Council for Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Medicine are among the latest of more than supporters for the project about which more will be revealed on Feb. 22, which is Canada Agriculture Day.The research strategy would start by determining what agrifood sector needs during the next five years as well as over a 10 to 20 year time span to both help feed the world and reduce the effects of climate change.Reducing the impact of supply chain disruptions would be another topic as well as how to avoid food shortages. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bolstering agriculture's effectiveness as a carbon sink also needs detailed examination.Other topics would include how agriculture can be most effective as a carbon sink. A national research and innovation strategy “should enable us to focus our efforts, increase our support and enable better adoption. It would provide approaches, timelines and could be referred to in benchmarking progress. It would certainly drive progress.”A strategy would also give governments “a better understanding of industry and academia's expectations,” Buy said. The potential for return on investment for research and innovation in the agrifood sector is higher than for most other sectors.Canada could become an international leader in agrifood research and innovation if it develops a comprehensive national strategy. “We also recognize that the agrifood sector creates jobs in Canada and also contributes to our GDP; a trade-positive balance.”