Research funder aims to be up and running by year’s end

New funding agency wants to boost province’s ag sector but creating the organization will take time

It will likely be next year before the province’s new ag research funding agency starts handing out money.

“We’re setting up. We’re gathering information. We’re listening to it,” said David Chalack, interim chair for Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR). “And we have to execute on it. We need to get this entity set up.”

The interim board has met three times since the provincial UCP government announced the agency’s creation at the end of March. In addition to working on its business and strategic plans, it has met virtually with commodity groups and research associations.

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“It’s the start of the consultation process,” said Chalack. “It’s exhaustive and it’s extremely important.”

The calls went “quite well,” said Alan Hall, executive director of the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta.

“Obviously, people are looking for detail, and they haven’t got that far down into the weeds yet in terms of putting things together,” said Hall.

“But it takes time to put together the operations to build the business plan and come out with a set of priorities. That’s not an overnight type of thing. So I think in the short term, we need to be patient.”

The agency’s interim board — which consists mostly of farmers and ranchers — will work on the organizational structure over the summer, with a final research agenda expected by the end of the year. Agency staff will then begin reviewing proposals and granting funds.

“For the most part, they didn’t have a lot of answers, but they know the questions and what the concerns are from that,” said Ken Coles, general manager of Farming Smarter. “As long as they do that with some of the key groups that are out there, that might help them figure out how to move forward.”

The big questions are: What type of research will be funded? Who will be conducting the research? Where will that funding come from? The provincial government’s 2020 budget earmarked $37 million for ag research, but details were lacking.

“There are still a lot of unknowns as to what’s happening with that $37 million,” said Coles. “Does it come with any sort of commitments already? Does it include all of Alberta Agriculture’s research?

“It’s pretty tough to move forward when you don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

Answers to those questions are still in the works, said Chalack.

But funding will target projects that have “the biggest impact for producers and which is going to grow our agricultural industry,” he added.

“Everybody wants to know, what does it mean to me and my organization?” he said. “The research projects that get funded will help sort that out. As applications come in, the most worthy applications will get funded.”

The key is getting practical applied research into farmers’ hands, said Chalack.

Coles agrees.

“For me, research is only one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It’s just a tool within a greater system, and we’ve sort of lost sight of what that system is and how to make it function again.”

That’s been a challenge in the past, Hall added. The research itself was done well, but without the same type of emphasis on extension, studies were left to gather dust on a shelf somewhere once the projects were over.

“We’ve got to develop research — that’s where some of our future competitive advantages are going to come from — but at the same time, we can’t just leave it at research,” he said. “It has to make its way into the farmers’ hands so they can apply it and put it to use.”

About the author

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Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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