From Our Desk
Research is your Edge
By Kari Belanger
THE WAY POTATO research is carried out in Canada is changing. Twenty years ago, Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, remembers 20 to 30 researchers working for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Charlottetown, all playing a vital role in agriculture and, in particular, the potato industry. Now, he says, there are only a handful of researchers in Charlottetown, with even fewer involved in potato research.
The number of researchers and the funds for conducting potato research in Canada have decreased over the years, but research is as essential now as it ever was. In order to remain competitive in the marketplace, current issues, such as disease and pest concerns, need to be addressed on an ongoing basis, says Donald. Also, research is vital to the development of new technology, innovations, opportunities and products. Our ability to provide our country with its necessary supply of food, of the highest quality possible, and at a competitive price that also allows our producers to make a profit, hinges on research. “We’re going to be left in the dust by other countries that are investing in research and looking ahead,” says Donald. “We need continuous improvement to be competitive in both the national and international markets.”
This decrease in resources—both money and people—has changed the way research is conducted in Canada. Tracy Shinners-Carnelley, chair of the Research Working Group of the Potato Committee Executive of the Canadian Horticultural Council and director of research and quality for Peak of the Market in Winnipeg, says it has forced the working group to prioritize research efforts as well as come up with innovative ways of getting the work done for the industry.
In 2009, the working group hosted a discussion between stakeholders in the national industry, compiling a list of priorities, and communicating those priorities back to the research community. This exercise was part of a new federal program, called the Growing Forward Agricultural Policy Framework, and is how Shinners-Carnelley says research will be conducted in the future. “Funding research will be through this kind of vehicle, where industry sets priorities and moves forward in seeking out the research capacity to act on those priorities,” she says.
When considering how research should best be conducted in Canada, Shinners-Carnelley and Donald are on common ground, advocating local research, an improved national framework and communication between all stakeholders and the research community.
Donald says there is a strong need for local, credible research across Canada to address the variability in growing conditions from region to region. Also, he believes Canada needs a better national plan and framework in place, with ongoing communication between all stakeholders—local industry, provincial and federal governments, and researchers—where everyone is part of the dialogue. “That way, the research being done would be industry-focused and led, as opposed to the other way around,” he says.
Shinners-Carnelley says, as well as local research, a mechanism is needed to support research initiatives that involve a national scope. “There’s a benefit of all regions across the country working together to make the best use of the resources we have,” she explains.
Research is vital to staying competitive, and being aware of the results generated by our researchers gives growers an edge in the marketplace. From the latest developments on the health benefits of pigmented potatoes to new varieties developed by AAFC, as well as what experts say about the future of GM potatoes in North America, this issue of Spud Smart explores current areas of research that keep Canadian growers at the forefront of national and international markets.