You have to wonder what the heck is wrong with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that they won’t even try to operate some version of normal field research activities for 2020 almost forgetting they are one of the key players in an industry deemed an essential service.
Reportedly, the word from Chris Forbes, AAFC assistant deputy minister, last week during a conference call with a number of commodity groups and ag research agencies is there will be no routine AAFC field research during the pandemic year. End of discussion.
That essentially puts the brakes on on-going research trials into crop variety development, agronomic research and possibility even the co-op trials for variety registration.
Laying out and seeding research plots is a fairly labour intensive program, but it’s not what you would call a cheek-by-jowl operation that couldn’t be carried out with a few simple measures to apply social distancing. Gloves, protecting face masks, zap workers with no-contact digital thermometers every morning…it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out a protocol that allowed for even part of the annual research program to be implemented.
Tom Steve, general manager of Alberta Wheat Commission described it as being a disappointing and frustrating decision on the part of AAFC. He points out the Western Canadian wheat and barley commissions weren’t looking for any handout this year during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact the collective commissions actually had $22 million they wanted to avail to AAFC as part of a five-year partnership agreement to support plant breeding. That plan is now on hold.
AAFC’s position is even more confusing since a number of Western Canadian university agriculture departments, Alberta Agriculture’s crop development centre in Lacombe, applied research associations as well as most private agriculture research companies are all planning to operate their field research programs this year. Somehow this group of other ag research organizations figure they can get plots established, while protecting worker health and safety.
So what gives with Ag Canada? Yes, they are only sitting out one year of research, but in the long-term process of finding and developing improved crop varieties or improved production practices breaking the continuity of research might have a long lasting impact. I would hate to think that Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, when it comes to Conservative-leaning Western Canada, would let politics get in the way of programs that would be of value to an essential industry.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]