September 7, 2011
Prairie farmers, through the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), have funded a major university endowment designed to tackle emerging threats to Canada’s international competitiveness in the grain trade.
The University of Saskatchewan will use $500,000 provided by the CWB to develop strategies that will enhance the economic sustainability of Canadian grain production. The funding, committed in 2009, will be used over the next 15 years. The first phase will examine new policies that can improve agricultural research investment in Canada.
“For our grain to stay competitive in global markets, it is crucial that we find ways to reverse dwindling investment in Canadian agricultural research,” said Dr. Richard Gray, a globally-recognized agriculture policy expert who was appointed this summer as the university’s first Canadian Grain Policy Chair, a position created by the endowment.
Public and producer investment for crop research in Canada is now much lower than other countries such as Australia, where new policies have encouraged research investment, he said. The CWB’s endowment will be used to examine what policies can best encourage innovation and investment, including quantifying the economic returns that flow from crop research, variety testing and various funding models.
CWB president and CEO Ian White said the research is vital to ensure the economic sustainability of family farms in Western Canada. “The ultimate goal of this research is to improve the profitability of grain producers,” he said. “Encouraging policies that can spark new technology, new production systems, transportation systems, and robust grain research is the best way to help keep our sector sustainable.”
Mary Buhr, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan, said grain-sector innovation will rely on forward-looking policies and regulation that allow farmers to respond to emerging opportunities and capture value from the marketplace.
“This is the most important challenge facing our grain industry today,” she said. “The CWB’s commitment to proactively support unbiased policy assessment is especially commendable at a time when there is renewed global focus on food security and demand for high-quality wheat to feed the world.”
She said the funding would be primarily used to support graduate-student projects into better ways to fund, manage and commercialize agriculture research for farmers’ benefit.
Gray said it is now a critical time for crop-research policy in Canada, and stressed the importance of industry engagement. “Since 1990, we have seen a slowdown in productivity growth in the western Canadian crop sector. An overall lack of investment in agriculture research funding will affect Canada’s long-term international competitiveness in grain. New policies are needed.”
Gray is one of Canada’s leading agricultural economists and a professor in the Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics at the University of Saskatchewan. He has led the Canadian Agricultural Innovation and Regulation Network since 2003 and has studied agricultural research systems in Europe and Australia.
Controlled by western Canadian farmers, the CWB is the largest wheat and barley marketer in the world. One of Canada's biggest exporters, the Winnipeg-based organization sells grain to more than 70 countries and returns all sales revenue, less marketing costs, to prairie farmers.