Comments Off on Another whack on agriculture
Apr 13, 2010 by Lee Hart

Another whack on agriculture

Yes, that is just what Agriculture Canada needs is more
budget cuts. I was just reading recently where the federal government plans to
cut the Ag Canada budget by nearly half – 45 percent – or $1.5 billion over the
next three years.

First of all it amazes me that the regular Ag Canada budget
is or was $3.5 billion….I think that use to be Canada’s national budget a few
years ago. Where have I been? But the new figure will be just under $2 billion
by 2013.

I am all in favor of a government saving money, but too
often these budget cuts affect the wrong programs. Instead of working on the
spare tire around the waist, it becomes a hatchet job on fingers, toes and even
arms and legs.

Whether it be a provincial government or the federal
department of agriculture, the escalating-trend over the past 10 years has been
to get away from the nuts and bolts research and development – the good old R
& D – the down-in-the-dirt stuff that can really benefit farmers. The
preference is to put more emphasis on supposedly higher profile support
programs, which someone hopes will at least impress a senior bureaucrat, gag
the opposition, and/or impress voters.

I have seen a number of good researchers who know how plants
grow or which end a cow craps from, who get shuffled off into some bureaucratic
administration position for a great new save-the-industry program, that makes
the director or the minister look good. And those who aren’t pulled out of
active service, spend half or more of their time filling out paper work to
apply to 125 different funding sources, or trying to schmooze some corporate
partner to kick in a few bucks, because there is no core funding for this long
term research in the annual budget. 

The other thing I see on visits to research centres is a lot
of grey hair. What’s going to happen to fundamental agricultural research when
these old farts decide to hang up their white smocks? Are there enough bright
young minds coming into the business to carry on this work, who are prepared to
bitch and barter for every dime to keep a field research program going?

Yes, I hear people argue that times have changed. Farmers
spend too much time worrying about production and they should spend more time
on business management and marketing and the global economy. And those are
increasingly more important elements of the agriculture industry too.

But damn it all, as we get down to razor thin margins it is
also increasingly important that producers have the tools and the knowledge to
optimize yields or have the most efficient rate of gain possible. And so much
of that depends on independent, unbiased, critical crop and livestock
production research.

I know the image of some plant breeder sitting on an
overturned five-gallon pail in a variety plot on a 30-degree day, or a
livestock researcher up to their armpit with a gloved arm down the back end of
a cow may not capture the public imagination like the ribbon cutting of a new
art gallery, but if politicians and senior trained-seal bureaucrats keep whacking
away at fundamental research and development programs, federal and provincial
research centres will become little more than museums themselves.

Save a dollar if you can, but if there was that much fat in
the system, why not turn some of that $1.5 billion “cut” back into
funding-starved R & D projects. Some how I doubt stripping that $1.5
billion out of agriculture is going to reduce taxes and increase my take home
pay any time soon.

 

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Lee Hart

Lee Hart


Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)


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