The Alberta government has been making good on its promises to tighten budgets and revamp how agriculture research is done in the province.
Earlier this year, the province announced the Results Driven Agriculture Research program— RDAR — an arms-length government entity that would administer funding and guide agriculture research.
Then, last week, approximately 250 Alberta Agriculture and Forestry employees, including researchers and extension staff, were laid off by Alberta’s provincial government.
The main premise of RDAR is for it to receive research dollars, and then go out and consult farmers to prioritize agriculture research that has a meaningful impact to farmers and ranchers, says Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen.
The dramatic transformation is something that was campaigned on during the election in Alberta, Dreeshen says.
“It was a major plank within our agriculture program. It was something we heard from farmers and ranchers that they wanted to make sure it wasn’t government ideology that was directing agriculture research, it was the priorities of farmers and ranchers,” explains Dreeshen. “It’s why we campaigned on it, then consulted afterward how best to do it, and RDAR was the result.” (Story continues below video)
The program is a project-specific program and is currently open for applications from anyone involved in what Dreeshen is calling “meaningful” agricultural research.
“The RDAR board has a process in which they will deem [the research] of value to the industry, and through consultations with farmers and ranchers, they will determine what type specifically will get funding,” he says.
Alberta is known for some of its high-profile research that has been conducted throughout the sector in the past. In order to keep some of these researchers on board, and to transfer specific research programs, there have also been transition funds to the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, Olds College, and Lethbridge College.
The question many producers and Albertans have had is why? Why such a dramatic change to how things have been done? Minister Dreeshen says it came from many producers asking where the public research was going.
“[Farmers] would hear of seven to eight-year-long studies on something that really wasn’t pertinent or important to farmers and ranchers. That research, even though it may be a few inches thick, just goes and collects dust on a shelf somewhere. We really want to have that focus of every dollar is hard to come by — as a province, we are running a $24 billion deficit this year alone — so we want to make sure that the precious taxpayer dollars that we are spending, that is actually of direct benefit and value to agriculture,” Dreeshen explains. “So that’s why we wanted to put a focus with farmers and ranchers determining what were the priorities, and what research needed to be funded.”
By keeping the program at arms-length from the government, it will keep research from being put in specific funding buckets, says Dreeshen.
“I don’t remember them all of the top of my head, but (the previous government) had certain areas of focus that they thought that agriculture research should go down. And you would have major government involvement. Now it’s completely in the hands of farmers and ranchers to be able to determine whatever project may come across RDAR’s desk, is up to them to be able to say there is a direct benefit to the ag sector.”