Trust me, I am from the government

Serious competition expected for ag research dollars

I remember a scene from a movie years ago where this old gal is living a quiet rural life raising goats and in this scene she is lovingly scratching the ears of a kid goat that is so calm it almost appears to be asleep, and then the old gal slowly reaches around with a sharp knife and cuts the goat’s throat. Whoa, I didn’t see that coming. The goat was to be processed for the stew pot.

You can't just eat a fine animal all at once.

Now let’s talk about how important the agriculture industry is to provincial governments across Western Canada. Agriculture is the backbone of every prairie province, contributing billions of dollars to the gross domestic product (GDP), employing thousands of hard working people and the key to the vitality of so many rural communities — has everyone had their ears scratched enough? Now let’s talk about funding provincial departments of agriculture and other related services — hang on a second I just have to find my knife.

Yes I am being cynical, but repeatedly over the recent years I have heard all provincial and federal ministers of agriculture talk about how important the industry is to the economy and the rural fabric of this country, and then once safely back in their offices have turned matters over to finance ministers to apply the budget cutting blade to agriculture services. It usually results in the loss of front line services and often cuts to research and development dollars, along with long-time researchers.

Earlier this year, Manitoba agriculture minister announced the closure of 21 Manitoba Ag offices in that province unveiling a new service delivery model — essentially that sounds like reduced services to me.

The Alberta UPC government eviscerated Alberta Agriculture in 2020. That followed several years of bloodletting and minor amputations. “Oh, hell let’s just get it over with and just gut the thing.”

Saskatchewan pared back it’s Ministry of Agriculture spending by about $30 million in 2020, but then came along to provide about $10 million in research funding earlier this year, so it doesn’t sound like cuts have been quite as severe.

And B.C. made relatively minor cuts to ag spending in 2020, although of all Canadian provinces, B. C. has the lowest government expenditures in agriculture as a percentage of agriculture GDP — probably its deepest cuts had already been made in past years.

To be honest I don’t know if all cuts or “new delivery models” are bad. That’s up to the farmers and ranchers to decide. In Alberta many of the former department of agriculture services have been reassigned to colleges and universities and to some extent private not-for-profit bodies such as applied research associations.

One concern I have about any restructuring is when the cuts in funding to research and researchers removes that “independent, unbiased assessment” of products and new technology — essentially we lose the trust that was placed in government, university and non-commercial research institutions.

And in southern Alberta, Ken Coles manager of the Farming Smarter applied research association, says he is surprised farmers haven’t been more vocal about changes or loss of extension services and potential loss of funding for agriculture research and development. He’s predicting a real dogfight in the near future over an every shrinking research funding bone.

Here is what Coles had to say about the new agriculture research structure in Alberta:

Farmer-Led Research Fallacy


And maybe I will end with a little story about a pig with a wooden leg, that somehow seems to fit with the great importance governments today seem to place on agriculture extension and research services.

A TV reporter became lost on the back roads and stopped at a farm to get directions. As he was talking to the farmer he noticed a pig with a wooden leg. “This could be a great story for the Six O’Clock News.  How did that pig lose his leg?” he asked the farmer. “Well”, said the farmer, “that’s a very special pig. One night not too long ago we had a fire start in the barn, and that pig squealed so loud and long that he woke everyone, and by the time we got there he had herded all the other animals out of the barn. Saved them all.”

“And that was when he hurt his leg?” asked the journalist anxious for a story.  “Nope, he pulled through that just fine.” said the farmer. “Though a while later, I was back in the woods when a bear attacked me. Well, sir, that pig was nearby and he came running and rammed that bear from behind and then chased him off. He saved me for sure.”

“Wow! So the bear injured his leg then?” questioned the reporter.  “No. He came away without a scratch. Though a few days later, my tractor turned over in a ditch and I was knocked unconscious. Well, that pig dove into the ditch and pulled me out before I got cut up in the machinery.”  “Ahh! So his leg got caught under the tractor?” asked the journalist.  “Noooo. We both walked away from that one.” says the farmer.

“So how did he get the wooden leg?” asked the journalist.  “Well”, the farmer replied, “A pig that special shouldn’t be eaten all at once”!

Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]








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