Are we entering the next golden era of ag innovation and advancement?

Posted on December 05, 2017

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Recently Statistics Canada released the 2016 annual Net Farm Income statistics for the country, broken down on a provincial level. To no one’s surprise Saskatchewan again led the country, as it has for the last five years running, accounting for $4.2 billion of the total $9.6 billion in realized net farm income. That is 44 percent of all the farm income in the country. Not too shabby for a province that contains three percent of the country's population, but perhaps to be expected when we enjoy jurisdiction over 40 percent of all the arable land in the country.
 
It is important to realize that numbers like this do not come about by accident, nor are they the result of fortuitous commodity prices alone, or the sometimes-smiling face of Mother Nature. No; consistent and stable net farm incomes only happen when supported by careful planning, excellent agronomic and business management on the part of producers and value chains that are intelligently designed and executed, and governed within a trade policy and regulatory environment that lends itself to predictability and a high probability of success. There is more to it though than even all of these necessary ingredients imply. 
 
I would argue that the underpinnings of our success lie in the long and impressive history of innovative agri science research and development carried out in the province and across the country that sets the table for both past and continuing success. One only has to look at the recent record of achievement in the ongoing development of public and private institutional research, development and commercialization capacity to understand from where our success has arisen, and where we will find our competitive and comparative advantages in the future. The following is by no means exhaustive (but by every measure impressive) as an indicator over the past few years of the seriousness and willingness of various actors and funders in ensuring our continued success:
 
  • Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) – $50M funded initiative at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) kickstarted by PotashCorp as a private/public partnership to create ingenious science that delivers sustainable food security for the world.
  • Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) – $37M funded initiative with funding from the federal government at the University of Saskatchewan that will drive transformative innovation in plant breeding.
  • Natural Products Canada – Ag-West Bio is a founding member and Western Node for NPC, a $26M funded Centre of Excellence for Commercialization of Research fostering and aligning the commercialization ecosystem to bring validated natural products to market - faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.
  • Protein Industries Canada – Ag-West Bio led the application submission for a $250M Innovation Superclusters Initiative, working to position Canada globally as the leading centre of high quality plant-based protein.
  • Diverse Field Crop Cluster – Ag-West Bio led the application submission to support an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and industry led collaboration funding across seven diverse crops (flax, mustard, canaryseed, hemp, quinoa, camelina and sunflowers); $26 M Cluster to advance scientific research and commercial outcomes to collectively grow these crops into multi-billion dollar value added export opportunities.
  • Richardson Centre – Bennet Farm – $15M invested in 440 acre demonstration and research farm near Richardson, SK.
  • Bayer Wheat Breeding Research facility Saskatoon – $24M invested in into the research and development of new and innovative hybrid wheat technologies.
  • A&W Invests in U of S Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence – $5M in a multi-site, multi-disciplinary research centre that focuses on the livestock production chain, including forage, cow-calf, beef cattle production and environmental research.
 
In addition, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture consistently invests on average $30 each year for every man, woman and child in this province (over $30 million annually) towards ag research and development opportunities including the continued support of organizations such as PAMI, VIDO-InterVac, Ag-West Bio and others. Saskatchewan leads the country by far per capita in ag bioscience R&D investment support on a provincial basis.
 
Finally, none of this happens with the producers themselves making substantial investments every year through check off support to the tune of an additional $30 million annually. All told, Ag-West Bio has measured ag bioscience public and private research and development investment in our province in the range of $300 million annually. 
 
These are indeed impressive numbers, that have yielded impressive results, in an industry that every citizen of Saskatchewan (and indeed the entire country) can be rightfully proud to call their own. To answer the initial question: "Are we entering a golden era of ag innovation and advancement?" I might argue we continue to be in the midst of a golden era of ag innovation and advancement, one that we have been collectively supporting and celebrating for well over 100 years, one that we have proactively and deliberately placed on a solid footing for the next 100 years!
 
The collective dedication and passion of all of the participants in this great industry is both awe inspiring and humbling. I remain ever grateful to be able to continue to play some small role in helping secure our future.
 
Photo: The College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan
Mike Cey,
Director of Corporate Initiatives Ag-West Bio