"Farmer-led" research, dispelling modern ag myths set as priorities for Alberta's ag minister

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The Alberta government is moving ahead with plans to reduce its funding and involvement in agricultural research, although according to the provincial agriculture minister, what that will look like is still to be determined.

The United Conservative Party’s budget, tabled last fall, included a plan to reduce spending on ag research by $34.1 million over four years, which the province hopes to facilitate by transitioning to a new framework of producer- and industry-led research.

“When we looked at our financial situation here in the province of Alberta, we needed to make financial reductions,” Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, tells RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney in the conversation below. “We actually spend twice as much on interest payments in the province of Alberta than the entire department of agriculture and forestry, so there’s a lot of efficiencies in all departments that we’re trying to find.”

Dreeshen, who hails from a farm near Pine Lake, Alta., spent some time at the FarmTech conference in Edmonton this week, amid a series of meetings with producers.

“So far we’ve had 16 stops across the province, with one more tomorrow,” he says. “There’s an online survey that’s had 1,400 submissions already. We’ve met with over 600 people in-person across the province, so there’s a lot of interest in getting the agricultural research question right, and we’re committed to doing it.”

So what will the model for “farmer-led” research look like, and what will the province’s role be? Dreeshen says they’re looking at several options.

The farmer-led Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) and Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF) administered provincial funding for research until 2016 and 2018, respectively, but both non-profit agencies were disbanded by the previous NDP government. Dreeshen doesn’t rule out a return to the ALMA and ACIDF model.

“We’ve heard people say ALMA and ACIDF were effective structures, we should do that,” he says. “We’ve heard others say give funding directly to commodity organizations, and they have research managers and personnel to be able to make those decisions on what type of research should happen.”

Another option would be to create a cluster model involving an entire value chain, says Dreeshen, similar to the approach taken with crop and livestock research at the University of Saskatchewan.

The provincial budget also included $2 million to fund a “Fighting for Agriculture and Forestry” strategy, which Dreeshen and others have started referring to as an agriculture “war room” to combat misinformation and myths about modern farming.

“We want to be able to amplify messages that promote modern agriculture,” he explains, noting the effort is still in its infancy. “We’re hoping to do it soon, within the next few months.”

Minister Dreeshen discussed the need to find efficiencies in the provincial budget, the future of ag research, trade challenges, and his priorities as minister with Shaun Haney in the RealAg studio at FarmTech:

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