Shifting funding dollars out of research and extension — what's the future?


Successfully securing funding for a new zero-till drill or a nitrogen-saving fertilizer treatment feels good, but one-off payouts to farmers as a funding model for advancing agriculture in the big picture is short-sighted, says Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson, RealAgriculture’s resident agronomist.

Johnson is firmly on the side of funding big-picture research and extension. And for good reason — he’s spent his entire career working in the sometimes tedious world of agronomic trials and sharing those findings with farmers.

He’s very concerned that current provincial and federal government trend of cutting research funding fails to consider the longer term benefits of investing in researchers and extension.

“That new no-till drill or that nitrogen stabilizer that I got to check for; that’s one check where if we take in those same dollars and invested them instead… losing an extension agronomist that will actually go out and do trials on farms… they could have given me another five bushels per acre. And that five bushels per acre would be a cheque in my mailbox, not just this year, but next year, and the year after, and the year after that,” Johnson says. (Story continues below audio)

There are always changing priorities and new challenges to consider, but long-term research is impactful, even if in the short term it isn’t the “sexiest” or the most top-of-mind for the government of the day.

The recent shift to focus on greenhouse gas mitigation is warranted, to some degree, but focusing too much on only one outcome of agriculture is already having unintended consequences, where a number of great programs have been turned down for funding and will wind down or be curtailed because they don’t fit into the latest priorities.

Johnson, for one, would rather see a continued commitment to research and continued support for researchers working hard on the challenges of agriculture over a wide-range of issues, not with such a singular focus as individual payouts.

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