RALLY FOR RESEARCH
BY STAN BLADE
Research dollars are allocated and projects implemented to improve returns for farmers. If the sector is to succeed, we should not lose the courage to invest in it.
As Dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES), I am grateful for every dollar farmers provide my colleagues. Such support is given to our wheat breeding program by the Western Grains Research Foundation, and the Alberta Wheat Commission will contribute more than $300,000 this crop year.
Commodity groups such as the Alberta Canola Producers Commission (ACPC) are making key investments with ALES professor and researcher Stephen Strelkov, a global leader in clubroot management. ALES professor and researcher Habibur Rahman has received ACPC support in identifying new sources of clubroot resistance.
Additional funding is available through Government of Alberta sources such as Alberta Innovates, which has supported the ALES Livestock Gentec program. In the recent Alberta budget, the agency’s funding was trimmed to $202 million from $278 million.
Alberta Innovates has helped make Alberta a leader in genomic technologies being introduced in ranching. This leadership has been amplified with the support of Genome Alberta and Genome Canada, organizations funded by the provincial and federal governments, respectively.
Alberta Innovates has also invested in our Phytola group, which conducts ground-breaking work in understanding the production and distribution of oil within the canola seed and boosting the nutritional value of its meal as animal feed.
Alberta Innovates also invested in our work on supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, a process that removes high-value molecules from sources such as oats. It has led to the creation of numerous commercial products such as cosmetics that add value to Alberta-grown crops.
The federal government invests in science and innovation in multiple ways, the common thread being research excellence, environmental resilience and positive commercial outcomes. In 2018, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) invested in the plant protein supercluster. ALES is a member of this consortium, which works to ensure Canada benefits through the plant protein industry.
Last year, ISED also announced investments in two agri-food groups through its Strategic Innovation Fund. The Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network managed by Alberta Innovates received $49.5 million in funding. This went to 61 companies and partner groups and $30 million went to the Canadian Food Innovators Network.
This funding creates new jobs, products and enhanced exports. Such activities align with the 2017 Barton Report that urged Canada to become the preferred global supplier of safe, nutritious, sustainable food.
The federal government also invests in commercial opportunities through Western Economic Diversification Canada (WEDC), its regional economic ministry. WEDC has made investments in our faculty’s spin-off company FORGE HydroCarbons, which has also received investments from Alberta Innovates, Lockheed Martin and others. WEDC also invested in upgrading our fermentation research facility, which is of great interest to food companies.
Great science is central to new opportunities in food and agriculture. The federal government supports the Tri-Council funding agencies that invest in engineering and science. These are the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
NSERC has supported new industry chairs we have established through partner funding with commodity groups. SSHRC funding enabled the study of consumer behaviour and citizen response to new food system technologies. CIHR has invested in people such as Caroline Richard, an ALES nutritionist studying the role of nutrition on immune function against chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. These agencies, and others, invest in our researchers to increase productivity, ensure sustainability and create economic opportunities.
Others want to grab the global opportunities we are chasing. If we want to continue growing our industry, investing in science and innovation is a must.
Stan Blade, was the founding CEO of Alberta Innovates from 2008 to 2014.