Research and innovation that makes sense on the farm

By MPP Toby Barrett 

Recently, I attended the Norfolk Federation of Agriculture annual meeting where I had an opportunity to speak about some of the work I’ve been doing over the winter.

Over the past several months, Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson, my fellow Parliamentary Assistant Randy Pettapiece, OMAFRA staff, and I have conducted extensive consultations, primarily by virtual means, with a large and varied group of key stakeholders. Our consultations were with those involved in research, innovation, commercialization and knowledge transfer throughout Ontario’s farm and agri-business sector.  The ideas and information generated are to provide background for recommendations and decision-making going forward.

Just as the agrifood sector must continue to change and innovate in a highly competitive world, so too government programs and policies must continually adapt. Government must focus on areas of expertise and meet emerging trends head on if Ontario is to remain a global leader.

Any advice for government policy or programs is also premised on the reality that, just as government does not directly grow crops or feed livestock, it does not directly do the research or commercialize new technologies.

Our goal is to strive to provide benefit to the people of Ontario by facilitating new and better ways of doing things leveraged through farmers, researchers, food processors, kitchen workers, retail grocers and all involved in our agri-business sector. Government can continue to enable and support important forward-looking opportunities in research and innovation, but it must be in tandem with farm and industry needs and objectives.

No discussion about research and innovation in Ontario agriculture would be complete without referencing two organizations: the Agriculture Research Institute of Ontario, aka ARIO, and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.  The Alliance is a research agreement between OMAFRA, the University of Guelph, and ARIO.

ARIO provides strategic advice to the minister on agri-food research and continues to modernize the province’s agri-food research infrastructure. ARIO also provides managerial oversight of open competitive research programs involving 15 government-owned research properties.  For example, the University of Guelph Simcoe Hort Station is one of them.

I recently had a tour of our area’s Hort Station with  Agriculture Minister Thompson; Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College, Rene Van Acker; and, Station Manager Ray Kaczmarski. The facility is quite active both inside and out, and has installed new refrigeration equipment and has renovated the public meeting room.

ARIO is consolidating livestock research at the Elora Research Station, including working with industry to plan for the relocation of swine and poultry research to Elora from the current Arkell Station.  OMAFRA is working with the Beef Farmers of Ontario and University of Guelph researchers to design and construct a new beef research facility also at the Elora Research Station.  New field crop research buildings are being constructed in New Liskeard and Winchester.  And the new Ridgetown Campus Field Crops Services building is in progress.

This kind of research across Ontario has made us one of the most significant agri-food hubs in North America.

When we all work together, our primary agriculture sector can adapt to change, respond quickly to challenges, and boost competitiveness both at home and abroad.

Ideas and solutions are key to growing our industry and maintaining the sustainability and viability of agri-food.  The challenge is trying to figure out how to go about investing in the right technology and innovation that makes sense on a farm.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk