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(We're all well aware that Agricultural Research is a thorny issue with our members. Given this, we're providing more than one point of view. We offer an introduction; summary of how it works and its intentions; and a response from one of our directors. Before you decide one way or the other about research, give it a bit consideration.)
By Tony McQuail
As ecological farmers we often feel frustrated and even distrustful of the agricultural research that is funded these days. We are concerned that it seems focused on chemical solutions to complex problems, and benefits corporate agriculture more than the family farm. There are also suspicions that scientific, single variable research doesn't produce information relevant to the management of a whole, complex farm organism. Yet there is also research going on which can help us understand how to work with ecological processes to better manage our farms. Ken deBoer is an EFAO member who was appointed to the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO). He spoke with the EFAO board on research in Ontario and submitted the following article.
If you have an interest in agricultural research and would like to have your name put forward to serve on one of the research committees Ken mentions please contact me.
By Ken deBoer
R.R. #2, Lucknow, Ont. N0G 2H0
Ontario is front runner in ag research, not only in Canada, but around the world. Last year OMAFRA spent close to $50 million on Agri-food Research. These research dollars paid dividends to producers, consumers, and the whole economy. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on ag research an average of $40 is generated to the economy.
Research helps Ontario farmers to be more efficient producers, allowing them to compete on a domestic and international scale. It also plays an important role in developing practices to protect the environment.
Ontario is the home of a number of top quality research facilities. The University of Guelph has five research stations located at Arkell, Alma, Guelph, Elora, and Ponsonby. The three Colleges of Agricultural Technology at Ridgetown, Kemptville and Alfred are very active. OMAFRA-funded research also takes place at the Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario at Vineland. Ag Canada and private labs are involved as well.
The question of how research priorities are identified is often asked. OMAFRA has set up a grass roots network to identify research needs. The organization of these committees is handled by the Ontario Agricultural Services Coordination Committee (OASCC), Beneath this committee is an extensive system involving over 80 people sitting on eight major committees and 93 sub-committees. These committees are comprised of primary producer, agribusiness reps, commodity board reps, researchers and OMAFRA staff. Within each these, recommendations are made for the research needs of their specific industry or commodity.
Recommendations made through the OASCC system are passed on to the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO). This group is made up of 15 member drawn from primary agriculture, agribusiness, the food industry, and AG Canada. It is at this point that OASSC priorities become research projects. Decisions are made to fund research projects based on a number of criteria including: the current level of research, the potential for growth in the area, the value of the commodity, the technological maturity of the industry, the immediacy of the need for research, the level of private sector support, environmental sustainability, availability of technology outside Ontario, the responsiveness of the market.
Groups and individuals can also be a part of the process by getting involved in OASCC committees and sub-committees. This is where the future direction of research in Ontario is really set. Any committee is only as strong as the hard work and commitment of its members and their willingness and ability to communicate.
There are a total of 93 active committees. Individual EFAO members will have interests that would be of value in almost all those areas. From my knowledge of the goals of our organization the following would probably be most useful.
1. Under Ontario Soil, Water & Air Research & Services Committee
A. Soil Management
B. Field Crops
C. Soil and Water Quality
D. Waste Utilization
2. Under Ontario Pest Management Research & Services Committee
A. Crop Protection
B. Field Crop
3. Under Ontario Horticultural Crops Research & Services Committee
4. Under Ontario Agriculture and Food Engineering Research & Services Committee
A. Rural Environment Engineering
5. Under Ontario Agricultural Economic Research and Services Committee
A. Resources Development
B. Social Impact
By Ted Zettel
As a farmer who tries to progress in "farming along with nature", I am aware that there are many times when good scientific research would be valuable. For instance, how do various sequences of crops, cover crops and underseedings, combined with various tillage options affect weed growth, nutrient release and finally crop response. Most likely I will, along with the rest of you, spend most of my farming life uncovering little bits of the answer. While we do learn from on-farm experience, our method is full of holes, scientifically speaking: no replication, poor record keeping, too many unregulated variables, and the big killer - weather. As we all know, what works one year might be a spectacular calamity the next. Wouldn't a team of trained, well-funded researchers be able to do this so much more effectively, yielding reliable data that would move ecological farming ahead by leaps and bounds? Yes! I think they could. Well then, do they? Heaven knows our universities are filled with such teams. The simple answer to that question is, in my opinion, NO!
The ag-research establishment does not help me find the answers I need. The simple reason is that they don't ask the right questions. The first question a professional researcher must ask - one of extreme practicality to them - is "How can I attract funding?" The kind of research that attracts sponsorship is that which leads to sales. If there's a buck in it, it always gets done in the end. We will never be short on research into new pesticides, drugs, machinery, or especially the ag-business world's "golden goose of the future" - biotechnology. BST is being proudly touted by some researchers as "the most researched product in history". I would hand my head in shame at such a sinful waste!
If there is a motivation apart from money, nine times out of ten it will be increased production.
The shining post-war vision of America feeding the world is now an obvious illusion, but somehow, as a research priority, increased production per unit still rules the roost.
Forgive my cynicism, but I'm not holding my breath until the University of Guelph, or other "establishment" researchers, solves all my rotation dilemmas. Despite all flaws, my own experience and that of my colleagues is still the best research I know of.
Copyright © 1994 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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