Why agriculture should get $100 million for research from Ontario budget


It’s stated twice, in 2007 and 2012: the $58-million research partnership between the University of Guelph and what is now the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs has an annual economic impact of more than $1.1 billion on the province.

That’s a $58-million annual investment, and a $1.1-billion return. Anyone know of another legal way to make money grow like that?

The amount the province commits to the partnership — which, no matter how big the return, can be considered pretty already — is under the microscope by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.It knows the  agreement with the University makes a big difference in areas such as variety development, disease control, yield development and environmental sustainability in crops and in livestock. Farmers benefit from it, and so does society.

The 2007 and 2012 reports, conducted by Deloitte and Touch and PricewaterhouseCoopers, respectively, credited the partnership with having drawn together one of the most focused agri-food clusters in North America, on Stone Road in Guelph.

It’s also helped drive the advancement of the Environmental Farm Plan in Ontario, a template which other provinces followed in one form or another to make farming more in sync with nature.

And it gives the university a centralized, critical mass of researchers, as well as modern equipment and infrastructure, to address farming’s ever-present challenges and opportunities.

Given that performance, it’s no wonder the federation wants more support for the partnership.

“It is vital that we continue to develop knowledge and technology transfer processes and provide farmers with financial incentives, as needed, to encourage the adoption of new, validating farming techniques and technologies,” says president Mark Wales.

The timing for such a request is ideal.

 In Ontario the premier also serves as the agriculture minister, and her party is mindful of the need to court the rural vote.

 An election is within sight.

 And regardless of which party succeeds, none of them are likely to revoke any sum committed to agri-food research. Farmers haven’t gone to the well in ages for extraordinary support, while at the same time their value to society is increasing. It seems like a safe investment.

Support for research is one of a handful of requests from the federation, which includes extending natural gas service to rural Ontario and cutting red tape for farmers.

I believe it’s the one that will resonate the most inside — and outside — of agriculture.

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