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Agriculture commissions help frame the future

Geoff Geddes | The Word Warrior

If winter always comes as a shock, planning may not be your forte. Fortunately, the agriculture sector in Canada is more proactive, as evidenced by the agricultural policy framework (APF). First created as a five-year plan in 2003, the framework was an early example of provincial, federal and territorial governments working together on a common vision for agriculture.

“The APF was developed to frame the policies and programs established collaboratively for a profitable and innovative agriculture and agri-food industry in Canada,” said Shannon Sereda, senior manager, government relations and policy for the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions.

Since 2003, the APFs have evolved to meet changing circumstances. The next version, known as the Next Agricultural Policy Framework (NPF), is set to run from 2023-2028. It will replace the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), a five-year, $3 billion investment by governments in 2018 to strengthen the industry.

For their part, the commissions are working to ensure the NPF reflects the needs and goals of Alberta growers, and the wheat and barley clusters under the plan are a prime example. The clusters provide government co-funding for national innovation. Split between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and industry, the current wheat cluster is worth $25 million over five years, while the barley cluster comes in at $10.2 million.

“The clusters represent significant program funding and, historically, have been integral to variety development initiatives,” said Dr. Lauren Comin, former director of research for the commissions. “The clusters have gone through an evolution, moving from industry-led when first introduced, to very policy-driven in this latest agriculture policy framework.”

Every five years, the shared vision for the sector is revisited and a new collective vision is established. For 2023-2028, that vision is known as the Guelph Statement, and aims to support producers in five main areas: climate change and environmental protection, sector capacity and growth, resiliency, domestic and global marketplace, and science, research and innovation.

There is a further emphasis on emissions reduction and carbon sequestration with the environment and climate change priority, and a focus on measurements within these areas.

“The Government of Canada has released an ambitious Emission Reduction Plan that outlines a sector-by-sector path for Canada to reach its emission reduction targets of 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Sereda. “For agriculture, this represents eight growing seasons to try and meet the government targets by 2030.”

Environmental goals related to agriculture appear in the Minister of AAFC’s mandate letter, which further explains the focus on this area in the latest framework.

As part of their efforts, the commissions have been scrutinizing the 2023-2028 NPF to ensure that producer interests are protected.

“The wheat and barley clusters are aware of the government priorities; however, they are also acutely aware of industry and producer priorities,” said Dr. Comin.

Because of the significant producer funding that will be needed to leverage program funding, efforts are being made to identify projects that fit in as those areas where sector and government priorities overlap.

“Farmers have been adopting beneficial management practices and funding research that has positive environmental and climate related outcomes for decades,” said Sereda. “They will want to see that, as the framework develops, there is recognition of what has been achieved from past practices and realistic expectations around what is achievable going forward.”

Alberta growers are also looking for a strong balance between their priorities related to growth and competitiveness, market development and trade, science research and innovation, and the government’s goals related to climate change and the environment.

“For decades, funding for science, research and innovation has focused on improving efficiencies and mitigating weather-based risks for farmers,” said Sereda. “There needs to be acknowledgement in the NPF that investments such as plant breeding have positive outcomes for both farmers and the environment. These investments help farmers use resources more efficiently and improve their productivity so they can grow more with less land.”

Government policy and programs – such as federal fertilizer emission reduction targets — are largely seen as one of the biggest threats to the industry. As a result, the commissions feel it is imperative that the appropriate metrics, as well as data measuring and modelling tactics, are established and well understood before expectations are placed on the agriculture sector.

“There have also been concerns about the level of funding that is received through the APF, and that it hasn’t changed to reflect inflation and changes to farm income structures in the industry, “ said Sereda. “Incorporating objectives that fall outside core industry growth and competitiveness goals will erode funding that is needed to help farmers manage risk and stay competitive.”

Overall, though, Sereda sees merit in the latest NPF priorities and in the value of these frameworks for strategic planning. Now, if they could just help us plan for winter…