As the federal government gets ready to roll out a new suite of programs on April 1, 2009, scientists, producers and industry may be wondering how these new models for science delivery will affect them. “Under Growing Forward, the new agricultural framework, there’s access to more funds, which has stimulated the development of new models, such as agri-science clusters, to support the commercialization of new agri-based products,” said George Clayton, program director of science partnerships at Agriculture Canada’s Lethbridge Research Centre.
Clayton told attendees at the Southern Applied Research Association’s (SARA) annual meeting in Taber in early March that the new models will provide increased opportunities for research groups, industry and producers. They emphasize public-private partnerships as the foundation of the research strategy going forward. “The models will capture resources from all the science capacity in this country – public, private, academia,” he said.
Agri-science clusters are one aspect of the new models. These clusters are meant to be non-profit driven, industry-led concentrations of scientific expertise for a particular sector, such as oilseeds, beef or dairy. The industry will manage the research portfolio and will have a direct role in commercialization and technology transfer, said Clayton.
Only six to 12 clusters will be formed across the country, with projects having a possible value of approximately $20 million over four years, although details have not been finalized. Due to the large scale of these projects, significant industry cash will be required.
Clayton said the best example of an existing agri-science cluster is Novalait in Quebec. It’s a non-profit corporate entity with a board of representatives from the dairy value chain and the province, operating as a regional-based model. Novalait collects research funding from the private sector, which in turn develops research priorities.
Clayton said another program expected in April might be more accessible for research groups such as SARA since the agri-science clusters are more focused on industry. It will provide stakeholders greater access to all science capacity to support innovative ideas and market opportunities. This program will require private sector investment to cost-share projects with an estimated value of approximately $4 million. Clayton said there could be 150 to 200 of these projects in the country, although all program details are dependent on Treasury Board approval.
“The purpose of these projects is to accelerate pre-commercialization of new agri-products and processes, and to create new value chains in agriculture,” said Clayton. “Our interest at Agriculture Canada is to get knowledge from science into commercialization to make agriculture more competitive.”
While the new programs target applied research with extensive industry involvement, other ongoing research will continue at the various research centres across the country. “Change has been going on in farming in this country since Confederation. We’re constantly doing things differently,” said Clayton.
When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they developed the Advantage Canada document to maximize the impact of government’s investments in research and create a business environment conducive to innovation. “Canada has always been very good at discovery,” said Clayton. “The one thing we didn’t have was getting knowledge developed into commercialization.”
In 2007, the government reinforced its commitment to scientific research by identifying four core principles: world class research, focus on priorities, encourage partnerships, and encourage accountability.