Budget to boost ag research infrastructure, rural broadband

Funds to fix up Canada’s agricultural research stations and food safety labs and a new program to boost rural broadband coverage are among the nuggets for the farming sector in Tuesday’s federal budget.

Overall, the Liberals’ first budget is based on $287.7 billion in revenues for 2016-17, against $291.4 billion in program expenses and $25.7 billion in public debt charges, for a deficit of $29.4 billion. Projections call for further, but smaller, budget deficits in each of the next five years, shrinking to $14.3 billion in 2020-21.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget reiterated the government is “committed to supporting an agricultural and agri-food sector that is strong and innovative” — but the budget’s supports for primary producers will mainly continue to flow through the previous government’s Growing Forward 2 (GF2) ag policy funding framework through 2018.

In the ag research sector, however, the budget proposes to provide $41.5 million on a cash basis starting in 2016–17, to “support the rehabilitation and modernization of select Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency research stations and laboratories.”

Research stations and labs earmarked for this funding are in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, the government said Tuesday.

“In addition to ensuring that these assets are in a good state of repair, this investment will facilitate advanced biological and environmental research through the procurement of state-of-the-art scientific equipment,” the government said in its budget documents.

Morneau’s budget also calls for $30 million over six years — starting with $4 million in 2016–17 and $6 million in 2017-18 — for AAFC to support “advanced research in agricultural genomics.”

Funds for both equipment and expertise are expected to allow AAFC to “accelerate” its DNA analysis and digital recording of its collection of over 17 million specimens of insects, plants, fungi, bacteria and nematodes, the government said.

That work, the government said, “will improve public accessibility to this collection and will support research in priority areas, including climate change and the rapid identification and prevention of biological threats to agriculture.”

The budget also commits Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to “develop an approach for additional investments in agricultural science and research, informed by the review of federal support for fundamental science,” which in turn will be led by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.

“Today’s investments demonstrate that the federal government is supportive of Canada’s agricultural research sector,” Serge Buy, CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, said in a separate release Tuesday. “When it comes to agricultural research, Canada has a wealth of knowledge. With the right support, we can be a world leader.”

On a related research front, the budget also pledges $2 billion over three years for a new Post‑Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, meant to “modernize” Canada’s on-campus research, commercialization and training facilities.

With the money, the government said, “colleges and universities will be able to modernize research labs, retrofit buildings used for advanced training, and expand on‑campus incubators that support start-ups as they grow their businesses.”

On the food safety front, the budget sets aside $38.5 million over two years starting in 2016–17 to “further strengthen and modernize Canada’s food safety system.”

The funds will go to CFIA for use on “systems that will help target inspection activities to the highest-risk domestic and imported foods” and to “enhance inspection activities abroad, to assist in responding to food safety risks before they reach domestic consumers.”

Broadband boosts, tariff cuts

The budget also calls for increased high-speed broadband coverage by way of $500 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, for a new program to “extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote communities.”

More details on that program’s parameters are to be announced “in the coming months,” the government said.

The budget commits the government to end tariffs on “about a dozen” manufacturing inputs for companies in the consumer goods and transportation sectors, for an estimated $9 million in tariff savings over the next five years.

Further out, though, it also pledges public consultations on ending tariffs for food manufacturing ingredients, other than supply-managed products.

The ingredients in question are mainly used in agri-food processing, the government said, and ending those tariffs is expected to support “investment and job creation” in the sector.

Among other supports for the food sector, the budget calls for $64.5 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, and $13.8 million per year ongoing to expand Nutrition North Canada to support “all northern isolated communities.”

The Nutrition North Canada program, set up in 2011, subsidizes the costs of perishable nutritious foods for eligible communities. Customers in eligible communities can buy the subsidized food from registered Northern retailers or directly from registered Southern suppliers.

The budget also pledges investment in “clean technologies that address climate change, air quality, clean water and clean soil” by way of a $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Fund.

Morneau, in Tuesday’s speech, specifically called out farmers for participation in the low-carbon economy.

“Wherever the sun shines and the wind blows, farmers and landowners can become energy producers,” he said. “Particularly for rural regions hurt by falling commodity prices, the opportunities for economic diversification are enormous.”

Forestry and agri-food, he said, are also “good examples of sectors where the government can help to facilitate the shift toward a cleaner economy, and ensure good jobs in rural areas.” — AGCanada.com Network

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