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THE SCIENCE OF SURPRISE

In May of 1990, a container ship named Hansa Carrier had an accident. Unlike the Evergiven, which blocked the calm waters of the Suez Canal for several meme-filled days in 2021, the Hansa Carrier ran into heavy seas on its journey from South Korea to the United States. Somewhere south of the Alaska Peninsula the ship lost 21 40-foot containers. Five of these were together filled with 61,000 Nike shoes.

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FIGHT AGAINST PLANT DISEASE EXPANDS

Bacterial leaf streak (BLS) is a subtle intruder, but given the right conditions, it can cause significant yield loss and affect future crops in wheat and barley. Most commonly transmitted through contaminated seed, the disease has the cereal industry pushing on all fronts to break the chain of transmission, starting with the development of an effective seed test to help farmers manage the risk and prevent it from spreading.

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FORWARD MOMENTUM REQUIRES COMPETITIVE CROPS

Undoubtedly, one of the most prominent success stories is the advancements of plant breeding innovation within our very own, world-leading research sector. It is truly an amazing time to observe plant breeders safely and relatively quickly create new crop varieties that meet the health, safety and functional needs of end-users but are also adapted to specific geographical environments.

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MEETING EXPECTATIONS

The United Nations (UN) announced its global Food Systems Summit will be held in October. As I write this, it is unclear whether the Summit will be an in-person, virtual or hybrid event. Whatever the case, the event will encompass a spectrum of topics related to the production, processing, transportation, marketing and consumption of food. It will build on earlier summits held in 1996, 2002 and 2009 with the goal to reduce global hunger.

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HOT AND DRY ECONOMICS

There are two variables that dictate prices and are out of farmers’ control. First, governments everywhere have long meddled with agriculture and trade policy. The net impact has been to create enormous externalities—barriers that inhibit the laws of supply and demand from dictating prices. Canada, a large net exporter, has often struggled for market access and suffered diminished competitiveness against subsidized farmers. Countries such as China, India and the U.S. as well as the EU continue to restrict market access and some also offer farmer supports that distort the market. There is no indication this will fade.

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GLOBAL BEER INDUSTRY UPDATE

These have been difficult times for the global brewing industry. While estimates vary, as the smoke clears, it appears world beer production was down between eight and 10 per cent in 2020, less than some early dire predictions of up to 14 per cent. Certain regions were particularly hard hit, such as Africa, Asia and Europe with output drops of 10 to 15 per cent. North and South America fared better with production down by two to five per cent. In China, the world’s largest brewer, production is estimated to have fallen by eight to 10 per cent, or 30 to 35 million hectolitres. To put this in perspective, Canada’s annual beer production is around 20 million hectolitres. In Japan, beer sales reportedly dropped nine per cent, while in Vietnam, which has a large population and strong beer culture, output is estimated to have fallen by a substantial 14 per cent.

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IN SEARCH OF PREDICTABLE PARTNERS

In recent years, China has hastily established barriers to Canadian imports that have created trade uncertainty. Canadian farmers have begun to see Chinese policy for what it is, a fragmented approach void of certainty that spurns the norms of regional and international trade agreements. Simply put, trading with China is like bartering on the black market; there is no recourse if you are ripped off. In order to ensure the livelihoods of Canadian farmers are not tied to the whims of Chinese politics Canada needs to take advantage of new markets that embody rules-based trade. If this occurs, farmers can expect predictability, the main ingredient of good business and trade.

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HOW TO NURTURE AN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM

The associate vice-president of applied research at Olds College, Joy Agnew co-leads the development of the school’s Smart Ag Ecosystem, a collection of programs and resources that includes its Smart Farm. She describes the school’s farm program as a “one-stop-shop innovation ecosystem.” While it is comprised of academic programs that provide students with practical, hands-on experience at the cutting edge of contemporary farming, the Smart Ag Ecosystem is also a vibrant research department. In recognition of her industry research and leadership of the college’s programming, Agnew was recently recognized as a Top 50 Innovator in Canadian Agriculture by Canadian Western Agribition.

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