Many ingredients went into the mix that resulted in the extraordinary success of agriculture in feeding a growing population.
Tour will visit demonstration research sites
Demonstration research happens all season long at Discovery Farm, home of Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, but during the show itself,…
There’s the ability of farmers to constantly learn and increase their management skills. There are also vast improvements in technology – mechanical, digital and biological – that have come from researchers in both private companies and public institutions. Public funds have enabled government employees and universities to push the envelope, which has helped farmers become more efficient and prosperous and also helped feed the world.
Yes, there are problems with how that’s done, but the bottom line in this argument is that more people have more and healthier food than ever before.
The rapid evolution of public funding focus, especially from Environment Canada, to the interaction with agriculture and public good – especially the environment and climate – has been stark.
We must continue to manage climate adaptation and reduce impact, along with the impact on agriculture practices on soil, water and air. However, losing the emphasis on productivity could have dire human consequences.
I’m a big supporter of the greater focus that industry has placed on soil health and we’ve paid special attention to it at Farmtario as a strategic priority since we launched. We have hundreds of articles on soil health on our website. I encourage you to use it as a resource on soil health trends and research.
Many times in the past five years, we’ve described the reasons to care about soil health for society and farm business success. Civilizations have fallen when the health of their soils no longer supported the nutritional needs of citizens. Healthier soils have many benefits for farmer operations, including better water management and more resilient crop growing conditions.
Piles of government funds are now flowing to encourage best practices that result in carbon sequestration, most of which have improvements in soil health at their base.
As we plan our coverage at Farmtario and we report on events with content valuable to farmers, the volume of soil health discussion is overwhelming.
Regular discussion and continued research and understanding of soil health is important, but please, let’s also continue the productivity, efficiency and yield-driving research and programs that will feed the growing number of people in our world.
Both are connected, of course. Healthy soils provide the base upon which elite growing practices can be tried successfully, but we need to talk about both.
I studied dairy sector research funding after the recent release of $7.5 million from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for national dairy research, the fourth funding of a Dairy Research Cluster.
I looked at the priorities for the four dairy research clusters and saw that the focus has evolved, especially on the part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, to include climate change mitigation and risk management in most areas.
There’s range to continue the excellent work on dairy genomics and a better understanding of the human health impacts of dairy, but there’s no doubt that finding a climate angle is key to getting funds.
This isn’t new and it’s part of declining research funding for agriculture productivity across the board. I remember a dairy researcher from Western Canada lamenting to me about a decade ago that there were few projects funded on dairy cattle unless there was a human health impact.
There’s been a significant decline in the value of the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance agreement between OMAFRA and the University of Guelph, and public funding in the latest dairy cluster has dropped from $11.3 million over five years to $7.5 million.
Who will fill the productivity research gap?
It will have to come from the rest of the industry. That includes initiatives like Yield Enhancement Networks (YENS), which use loads of data from individual farmers to produce lessons for their farms based on benchmarks. There are big projects, such as the cross-national wheat YEN involving Ontario and nearby American states, but I’m also encouraged by the local mini-YENs for corn.
Companies that supply farmers must be involved too, although they, too, are focusing on environment and climate versus the productivity that remains sorely needed.