Support for agrifood innovation has declined, study shows

Past innovations have paid off well for farmers

Ottawa-The Canadian agrifood sector needs more government and private sector investment to remain globally competitive in the adoption of sustainable innovations, says a report from the Simpson Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy at the School of Public Policy of the University of Calgary.

Support for agrifood innovation has declined in recent years and should be restored to previous levels, says the report written by Jared Carlberg, an agriculture professor at the University of Manitoba.

“Incentives such as tax relief, matching funds and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights could spur increased levels of private sector investment in innovation,” Carlberg said.

In the past 50 years, innovation in agriculture has brought tremendous benefits to producers, processors and consumers. The innovations include genetically modified crops, large-scale cattle feeding operations and the adoption of no-till farming, which has reduced the traditional practice of summer fallowing fields. “Still, with the demand for a secure global food supply and growing concerns about the environmental impacts of large-scale farming, the need for sustainable innovation in the agrifood sector is pressing,” Carlberg said.

Public funding for agricultural research and development should be increased to prior levels along with the creation of more favourable conditions for investing in the agrifood industry. As well, strengthened intellectual property rights will assure innovating firms can capture the economic benefits of their developments.

Recent reports by the Agriculture Institute of Canada and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that Canada’s support for agricultural innovation ranks seventh globally at 0.046 per cent of GDP, but that figure is still considerably below historical averages. Private-sector investment has also declined, with Canada ranking 25th globally in 2014, down from 18th place in 2008.

Carlberg also called for more sources of venture capital to encourage innovation along with providing smaller firms with similar tax incentives that larger counterparts receive. “Digital infrastructure must be upgraded so that rural broadband service is expanded and reliable, as the uptake of new digital technologies by farmers is critical to the agri-food sector’s success. Regulations should be simplified and updated, the addition of skilled labour to the agrifood workforce facilitated and more use must be made of information technology.”

Innovation has produced benefits such as genetic modifications that have lowered crop damage and improved pest control. “Yields are up by 21 per cent, cost savings on pesticide use have risen to 39 per cent and the resultant profitability for farmers who grow GM crops has gone up 69 per cent. With global crop demand predicted to double by 2050, innovation can provide huge benefits for all stakeholders in the agri-food industry, and more food can be grown to feed the world’s expanding population.”

Carlberg said that as a world-leader in building a sustainable, profitable and safe agri-food system, Canada can be a pre-eminent hub for innovation. “However, senior levels of government must commit to developing Canada’s potential and to creating an environment that encourages private investment.”

Canadian scientists are working tirelessly to develop developing new and improved crops and animal genetics and showcasing their work through scientific publications and presentations.

By acting on the report’s recommendations, Canada can continue to count itself among world leaders in this area, he said.

This news report was prepared for National Newswatch.