Plummeting oil revenues are blowing a big hole in the provincial budget, but the Alberta Federation of Agriculture says that’s all the more reason to increase funding for ag research.
Attendees at the group’s annual general meeting last month passed a resolution calling on the province to increase, rather than cut, ag research funding, and to reinstate the cancelled Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment fund.
“Agriculture has been a driving force in this province for much longer than the oil industry has,” said Humphrey Banack, a producer from Round Hill and the federation’s second vice-president.
“For us to see a changing investment in this industry is very difficult to manage. We need to continue this steady pace of investment. Now’s not the time to hold back.”
“It’s been shown over and over again that for every dollar you invest in agriculture research, you get a tenfold return,” Hughenden producer and first vice-president Keith Degenhardt said in support of the resolution.
“The reinstatement of the Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment fund is very critical to keeping that investment going.”
The Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment fund, which earmarked $200 million for innovative ag research, was quietly scrapped just before Christmas as part of government belt tightening. There were many “excellent initiatives” being considered for funding from the endowment, but the province needs to practise restraint, said Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson.
But other provinces have weathered similar storms by reinvesting in agriculture, Taber farmer Gerald Third said at the federation’s meeting.
When potash prices crumbled in 2013, “the revenue stream that the Saskatchewan government depended on was significantly and negatively impacted,” said Third.
“That government, at that point in time, was faced with a challenge. And what it did was approach its agriculture industry with a move to double its financial viability… so that it would have a stabilizing influence on the economy and an income base it could draw on virtually ad infinitum.”
Manitoba has also looked to its food sector to overcome “significant financial challenges,” by encouraging growth in its volume of food processing to $5.5 billion a year by 2020, he said.
“I would like to see the Alberta government adopt a strategy that utilizes both Alberta’s primary agriculture producers and its processors to help bring the economy stability and the income that it needs in order for it to move forward,” said Third.
“Cutting back is not an answer. Stop-gap, short-term financial solutions are not an answer. We need a long-term, stabilized investment plan in rural Alberta.”