The federal government recently announced a $70 million investment into Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) network of research institutions, including what is being called the Living Laboratories Initiative.
The investment is separate from the Canadian Agriculture Partnership — the latest rendition of federal-provincial agriculture investment — with large portions allocated to finding new hires and de-segmenting research initiatives.
Why it matters: AAFC has a long history of working with the farm community in both research and extension work. Representatives from AAFC say the investment ensures Canadian farmers continue to be involved with — and benefit from — new, more all-encompassing research.
Farmer participation and broadening research networks
The funding announcement was made by Lawrence MacAulay, federal agriculture minister, at AAFC’s Harrow Research Centre in late September. About $10 million of the overall investment is also going to what’s being called the “Living Laboratories Initiative.”
As Dr. Dolores Durant, Associate Director for AAFC’s Harrow Research Station, explains, this means bringing researchers from differing disciplines together to provide a wider perspective on research projects and extension work.
Science can easily get siloed, she says, and the Living Laboratories concept is to get rid of the silos by bringing together people from different areas of expertise. That could mean a project focused on corn agronomics, for example, could see participation from those specialized in corn, soil health, water quality, soil greenhouse gasses, farmers operating in different growing conditions, and so on.
While who or what groups will be considered “partners” under the Living Laboratories Initiative has not yet been determined — and indeed, will vary between institutions and initiatives — both Durant and AAFC reiterate that external community partners; that means farmers, farm organizations, provincial ministries, and others will all be included.
“The beneficial practices we develop need to be useful on the ground,” Durant says. “The beneficial management practices we develop are meant to support producers to maximize productivity and solve their issues while maintaining a healthy environment.” That’s the ultimate outcome, that we’re doing the right research.”
Researcher succession planning
According to the official AAFC press release, $44 million of the total amount is being dedicated to hiring the next generation of federal research scientists and science professionals, as well as equipping them with state-of-the-art tools (i.e. new research equipment) they need to advance agricultural research.
“It’s for new hires to pick up for those about to retire,” Durant says. “This is succession planning with an eye to cutting-edge new research.”
Forty new scientists will be hired and dispersed across the 20 AAFC research facilities scattered throughout the country. What remains to be seen, however, is the scientific knowledge held by those new hires.
AAFC, says Durant, will accept applications and strategically consider the pool of expertise generated from those applicants. The expertise of those hired will determine who goes where.
“This is an opportunity to look at new areas of research,” she says. “They’re starting with 40, then where they should go, then what support (staff and equipment) they’re going to need.”
Remaining funds allocated to “priority” research areas
The AAFC announcement detailed the remaining $16 million will fund collaborative federal research projects focused on “priority areas affecting the agriculture sector” — namely environmental issues, such as nutrient management and waterway health.
The entire investment will be allocated over the next five years.