By Tim Kalinowski
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The executive director of Farming Smarter is calling for more critical thought and public conversation about the state of agricultural research in Alberta.
In a letter recently released to farmers and the public called “Farmer led research fallacy,” Ken Coles says it is shocking there hasn’t been more protest from the agriculture community after the Alberta government has cut agriculture funding, particularly for applied research, so severely over the past year.
“February of 2016,” he writes, “I witnessed farmers and ranchers unite across the province in passionate protest against the newly introduced Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. We saw protests from farmers like those you see in France including tractor parades, homemade signs, chanting and, to my guilty pleasure, protest pizza. Yes, that’s right, protest pizza! Outside the Lethbridge Lodge where then Minister Carlier was about to speak someone had brought pizza for protesters … In 2020, a new government made dramatic changes to Alberta Agriculture and I haven’t seen one tractor, one sign or one piece of pizza! I wish farmers and ranchers showed Bill 6 passion about the recent changes to Alberta agriculture research as it will create gaps in history.”
Coles told Southern Alberta Newspapers he intended the letter to be sort of a wake up call for the Alberta ag community.
“My biggest message is the changes that are happening are monumental, and I think the majority of folks don’t understand what is happening, or haven’t paid attention to what’s happening,” he stated. “And don’t recognize the impacts of the changes being made right now and have been made are going to be significant impacts, but they may take time to actually see that. I am just shocked there hasn’t been more dialogue and debate regarding changes and the cuts to agriculture extension.”
“Extension,” says Coles, refers to research funded by government to allow the transfer of the best science of agriculture to its final application at the grassroots level on the farm.
He says the government’s guarantee of funding to RDAR (Results Driven Agricultural Research) of $37 million per year over 10 years, while welcome, does not make up for what is being lost to the Alberta agriculture industry by previous cuts, particularly to extension agriculture.
“RDAR ran a call for proposals this fall and is set to announce its first round of results driven research funding to the industry,” Coles writes in his letter. “But this government completed the gutting of Alberta Agriculture’s research and extension work, cuts to agriculture service boards, cuts to applied research associations and a transfer of agriculture research assets to post-secondary institutions.”
“In addition to this, the Canadian Agriculture Partnership program is mostly frozen. (RDAR is supposed to take over two programs — Accelerating the Advancement of Agricultural Innovation and Adapting Innovative Solutions in Agriculture — that funded $12 million in research annually). While many Albertans understand and appreciate government fiscal responsibility, there is an undeniably large decrease in investment, a loss of public focused human resources and, most importantly, a detached relationship between producers and government.”
Coles explained this point to Southern Alberta Newspapers further.
“I think when it comes to investment in public good research and extension the value is spread out amongst the public,” he stated. “It is going to have both environmental and economic impact on individual farms, but also the whole industry. I am not suggesting that what’s going on isn’t good, and there aren’t good things happening, but I do suggest an overall decrease in investment which has public-good support will end up hurting the overall industry, especially in the long term. When it comes to investing in research and extension it is a long game we are playing.”
Coles also acknowledged based on early presentations on this issue by Minister Devin Dreeshan, and perhaps the unrealistic expectation of farmers, was that regional farmer-led research organizations like Farming Smarter and the universities would step up and somehow fill the gap– despite the fact they have received no new funding to do this, and, in fact, face Alberta government cutbacks themselves.
“I must admit I’m very concerned for the future of publicly funded research and innovation development,” he writes. “As for extension and knowledge transfer, I believe it will soon disappear completely. Ironically, at the beginning of all this, many felt that groups like Farming Smarter and other producer lead groups across the province would need to step up and take on the work. In fact, we were falsely blamed for making it happen.”
Coles hoped by speaking up that others in the agriculture industry will begin to speak up too.
“I just want to get people to lift their heads,” said Coles. “I think there are good things that are happening, but I would expect a little more dialogue and interest in something that is so important to the industry.”
To read the entire letter visit: http://www.farmingsmarter.com/farmer-led-research-fallacy/