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Research funding agency run by farmers closes its doors

Board votes to shut down Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund after funding dries up

After 17 years in operation, the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF) has shuttered its doors.

“Alberta Agriculture and Forestry is changing the way it handles research and development,” said Doug Walkley, the organization’s former executive director.

For the past three years, the ministry has been conducting a review of how it funds ag research and a final report is due in November. Uncertainty about when — or if — ACDIF would receive further funding prompted its board, which is composed of farmers, to vote in early June to disband the agency.

The amount of money allotted to research and development has diminished considerably over the last number of years.

“Basically, the province is putting $20 million to $30 million less per year into (overall ag) research than it was a few years ago,” said Walkley. “It still tends to fund livestock more readily than it does crops.”

Five years ago, ACIDF was putting $5 million to $7 million into crop research, while Alberta Innovates Bio was putting in about $10 million to $14 million (with about $4 million to $5 million of that going to crop research).

“There was quite a bit more dollars around,” said Walkley.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said his department is considering a new model where it will fund crop research collaboratively with the province’s crop commissions.

Walkley said it is sad that ACIDF had to close since it was an organization led and driven by producers. Now the funding decisions will be led and decided by the government.

“My feeling on that is that they have moved themselves back in history 20 years,” he said. “What they’re going to is a government decision-making system.”

It was frustration with that approach that led to the creation of ACIDF in the first place, he said.

“Every commission in Alberta, including the livestock commissions, has been going to the government for years, saying, ‘We’re really concerned about crop funding, you need to continue it and ACIDF is a good model to use,’” said Walkley. “The minister has not responded other than to let us close our doors. There wasn’t a decision to close the doors, but no one said they were closing it down. They just cut off the funding, so we don’t have a choice.”

The agency used all of its funds before its board voted to close it down, including partnering recently with the Alberta Wheat Commission on a number of projects.

“I’m thankful for their partnership because it let us spend money on good things rather than spend it or give it all back,” said Walkley.

The loss of ACIDF will be felt, said Ward Toma, general manager of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

“What it means is that we have not consistently known financial partnership for research projects for the last couple of years,” he said.

Alberta Canola worked well with ACIDF because its board members were all farmers and the rules were simple and well known, said Toma, adding his organization received funding for research, market development, and public relations.

“We were able to take advantage of the funding that was available through ACIDF. I can only hope that anything that comes forward to replace it is just as easy to work with.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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