by SUSAN MANN
Ontario and national farm leaders are applauding the federal government’s move to spend almost $40 million on upgrading Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research stations and labs in five provinces, including Ontario.
However, they were unable to say how much the $37.6 million will offset the cuts by previous governments to agricultural research.
Almost two-thirds of the funding announced last week, about $25.7 million, is earmarked for upgrading research stations in Quebec, including $20.1 million to replace aging and obsolete equipment in the pilot plant at the Saint-Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre.
In Ontario, two stations are getting a total of $1 million to develop new technology for greenhouse vegetable and ornamental production and plant protection. They are: the Harrow Research and Development Centre and the London Research and Development Centre.
Other stations getting funding are in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay says in a June 16 press release “working in modern facilities with up-to-date equipment will strengthen the department’s science capacity, support innovation and ultimately deliver benefits to the agricultural sector, producers and Canadians.”
Emery Huszka, National Farmers Union – Ontario president and Region 3 coordinator says he’s “not jealous of Quebec getting dollars. We’re not worried about other provinces benefitting from research because we’re all in agriculture together in this country.”
Huszka adds that “stable funding for public research is so important and we’re happy this money has come back into publicly-owned agricultural research facilities.”
Due to previous government cutbacks to agriculture “we lost years of research. Those people that left went to private industry. For those ongoing project; that research was disrupted.”
Canada needs to ensure politics doesn’t “interrupt the public interest,” he notes.
Ron Bonnett, Canadian Federation of Agriculture president, says one of the hardest questions to answer is what is enough funding.
“I think the fact they (the federal government) have recognized that spending is needed is critical because we’ve gone through a period where there has been some pretty tough cuts to the research centres,” Bonnett notes. “Putting money back in and making sure the investments are made in facilities for agriculture is a good move.”
The $37.6 million is not “small change. It’s a substantial amount of money.”
Bonnett notes one of the things he’d like to see the government do is develop an overall long-range plan on how “they’re going to treat research investments now and where the focus should be.”
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Don McCabe says he’s hasn’t seen the government press release announcing the research spending. However, he agrees investments in research “is always a good thing in agriculture. Hopefully, the results are applicable for Canadian farmers because it’s the Canadian taxpayer who pays the bill.”
Clarence Nywening, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario president, says one of his organization’s goals is encouraging governments to increase spending on research “because it benefits all farmers.”
Nywening agrees it doesn’t matter that most of the funding is going to research stations in Quebec. “All the research by the stations is shared.”
Bonnett says the Canadian federation hasn’t completed its analysis of previous cuts to agricultural research compared to money going back in. “We’re doing a bit of work to get a handle on this but we don’t have anything definitive yet.” BF