Government spent January listening to Alberta’s farmers about the role research plays in agriculture.
Throughout January 2020, the Alberta government asked Alberta’s farmers, ranchers and agriculture partners what the future of agriculture research should look like in the province.
It’s a question many feel strongly about, and the turnout proved it. Six hundred and fifty people turned out for 17 in-person engagement sessions, and 1,422 people completed an online survey.
“This was important conversation, and the impact it will have on the future of agriculture research in Alberta will be substantial,” says Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. “It was great that so many people turned up for the sessions and took the time to fill in our survey.”
During the sessions, participants were asked what farmer-led research means to them, who should set them and what role industry and government would play in an effective governance model.
Responses, both online and in person, were enthusiastic. Dozens arrived at each event – the largest turnout was Olds with 65 – and they had plenty to say.
At the various engagement sessions, when asked what Farmer-Led Research meant to them, many farmers said that they want to influence priorities and shape the research agenda in collaboration with key partners, such as commodity groups, academia, researchers and government.
Along with the internal and public engagement sessions, there was a targeted stakeholder session with industry groups and a private sector roundtable with a focus on Agriculture and Forestry’s “Open for Business” priority. Lots of good ideas and comments came from these sessions as well.
“The question of improving Alberta’s research and innovation capacity is something I’ve been working on for many years,” says Stanford Blade, dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. “I appreciate the chance to provide feedback and examples of the ideas from our faculty which have improved the prosperity and competitiveness of Alberta producers and other partners in the agri-food sector.”
Some in industry believe that this engagement could enhance research conducted by post-secondary institutions in the province.
“I think there’s potential to build agriculture research capacity at Alberta’s colleges and universities,” says Leighton Blashko, with BASF. “And there’s great opportunities for industry and government to work together to train more students.”
Many agreed that a critical step in the research process is translating it into real, practical terms.
“Commercialization is the toughest part of this piece – translating research to application,” says Michelle Miller of Neogen Canada. “It requires specific skillsets that are also broad. For example, someone who successfully commercializes research can speak scientifically and think from a business perspective, and vice versa.”
The engagement sessions and online surveys provided a great source of information to set research priorities.
“We made a commitment that farmers, not government, set research priorities,” says Dreeshen. “We want to ensure the right research is benefitting Alberta’s agriculture industry. We look forward to taking the feedback we received from famers and industry to develop a transformative model that leads to tangible benefits for farmers, including higher profits, more abundant food supply at lower cost for consumers, and ultimately a higher quality of life in rural communities.”