Research cutbacks fought by farmers

Budget cutbacks to federal research has farmers concerned about work on plant breeding and new insects and diseases.

The federal research centre in Summerland is being funded by attrition as researchers and technicians retire, so it’s withering away, charges Christine Dendy, president of the Okanagan-Kootenay Cherry Growers’ Association.

For years, the cherry industry has been putting funds into research at the Pacific Agri-food Research Facility in Summerland, but when the cherry breeder retired a couple of years ago, his position was combined with the apple breeding program, and no one new was hired to replace him.

Now, it’s the plant pathologist who retired from the centre, and so far that position has not been filled either, says Dendy.

“We can help fund research, but we can’t go out and hire staff for the centre,” she adds.

However, in an exclusive interview, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said the federal government is re-focussing its efforts into what he called the ‘science cluster approach.’

Going forward, it will be results-driven research, driven by industry. There is the potential for it to continue, but it’s up to industry, he said.

“If industry has some skin in the game, it will take ownership,” he commented.

Industry can apply for matching funding for what it wants to see put in place, he said, through the new Growing Forward Two suite of programs: AgriInnovation, AgriCompetitiveness and AgriMarketing.

It’s a five-year, $3 billion federal-provincial initiative that actually begins April 1.

Ritz said government will continue to work with industry, but he admitted it is “looking for efficiencies. It’s been a shotgun approach up to now.”

But Dendy says there’s no way industry can hire a team of researchers. “That’s what government is there to do; provide the infrastructure and the researchers.”

She is concerned a further 10 per cent budget cutback is planned at the Summerland research centre this year.

It’s just the new model of how business is being done, was Ritz’s comment. “Farmers farm differently now too,” he added.

“Everyone shudders at the loss of the status quo,” he said.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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