It’s back to the future for ag research in Alberta.
After holding a series of consultations across the province as well as an online survey, the provincial government has created a new organization that “takes the best parts of previous research models.”
That’s a reference to two former agencies — the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund.
The former, which had been putting $12.9 million annually into the livestock industry, was dismantled in 2016. The latter, shut down in 2018 after 17 years of operation, had been putting between $5 million and $7 million annually into crop research (with an additional $4 million to $5 million invested by Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions).
As well, the interim board of the new agency — called Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) — is being chaired by David Chalack, who was chair of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency. When ALMA was shut down in 2016, Chalack described it as a model for leveraging government investment into results that benefited the livestock sector.
Now, he’s excited about the next phase of agricultural research in Alberta.
“This new entity will take the best of previous organizations like ALMA and ACIDF and bring it together,” Chalack said March 31. “I really applaud the Alberta government for seeing the future and understanding where funds need to be allocated.”
As its name suggests, RDAR’s mandate is to focus on funding research that produces direct benefits for farmers.
“When we spend research dollars, we will invest that money into creating opportunities to take research and scientific discovery through to commercialization and the marketplace,” said Chalack, adding the organization will be funding both crop and livestock research.
Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen said his government won’t dictate how the agency spends its funding.
“Research priorities should be determined by industry,” he said in a news release. “Research can be a massive springboard for economic growth.”
RDAR will receive $2 million from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to set up operations. No specific funding was announced but the province said it had maintained agriculture research funding at $37 million in its last budget. These budget dollars will allow RDAR to fund both longer-term ‘pure’ research, as well as shorter-term ‘applied’ research, said Chalack.
“Our goal is to be a nimble and efficient quick responder to applications to keep money flowing in a consistent and predictable way,” he said.
“That way, people can be assured that projects — and somewhat longer-term projects — can be funded reasonably and satisfactorily.”
This announcement will also help bolster Canada’s food security in a time when people are panic buying grocery store staples, he added.
“It’s certainly some good news at a time when people are finally understanding that food does not grow on store shelves,” he said.
“This is an opportunity, and the time is right to capture that new awareness.”
Gerald Hauer has been appointed interim CEO and Clinton Dobson as interim research director.
Other board members include Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley general manager Tom Steve; Alberta Beef Producers chair Kelly Smith-Fraser; and Stanford Blade, the dean of University of Alberta’s faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences.
Also on the board are Warner-area producer Brian Otto; Medicine Hat-area producer Nichole Neubauer; Acme-area producer Matt Sawyer; Alberta provincial VBP+ co-ordinator Melissa Downing; and Vance Yaremko, manager of Smoky Applied Research and Demonstration Association.