The role of science and technology continues to be critically important in maintaining the profitability and competitiveness of Canada’s agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector. At the same time, the sector’s science requirements are growing in complexity, new technologies are emerging, the government policy and program landscape is changing, and the science capacity of many players in Canada’s agri-innovation system – such as federal and provincial governments, universities and the private sector – continues to evolve.
In this context, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) continues to modernize its delivery of science and technology. Throughout 2012 and 2013, AAFC conducted a strategic planning process to shape the future direction of its Science and Technology Branch (STB) and establish the Branch’s role along the innovation continuum in providing research (R) resulting in knowledge acquisition, developing (D) or applying that knowledge, together with concerted efforts to transfer (T) this knowledge and technology or practices to stakeholders.
Recognizing that the sector is organized along commodity lines, the Branch is also focusing its planning of RDT activities to reflect commodity lines.
Nine Sector Science Strategies
Nine sector science strategies have been developed to set priorities for AAFC’s science activities over the medium term and provide the basis for detailed work planning within STB. Engagement with a multitude of Canadian stakeholders and AAFC staff has helped ensure that the sector science strategies resonate with Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.
Seven of the strategies are commodity-focused, encompassing science activity for: Forages and Beef; Cereals and Pulses; Oilseeds; Horticulture; Dairy, Pork, Poultry and Other Livestock; Bioproducts; and Agri-Food. Two other strategies capture cross-cutting agricultural challenges: Agro-Ecosystem Productivity and Health; and Biodiversity and Bioresources. These are not listed in any priority order.
Each strategy identifies the unique context, issues, challenges and opportunities for the sector and outlines STB’s objectives and focus areas for research, development and transfer, provides a framework for scientists to propose areas of work, and describes the role STB will play in relation to, and in collaboration with, other organizations.
To provide a consistent framework for the strategies; each one sets out areas of focus for AAFC science within four strategic objectives that represent the major scientific challenges facing 21st century agri-based production and processing systems.
The first objective, increasing agricultural productivity, includes RDT that increases the yield potential of crops, improves feed efficiency for livestock, and decreases the yield gap (the gap between potential yield and realized yield) by addressing biotic stresses (weeds, insects and diseases), abiotic stresses (nutrients, water, cold, salinity, soil structure, heat), and system-level productivity (e.g., crop rotation, pasture systems). This area of research also includes finding suitable uses for marginal lands and using agricultural biodiversity for greater economic sustainability.
The second objective, improving environmental performance, includes RDT focused on ways to improve the efficiency of nutrient utilization and recycling, enhances integrated pest management practices, improves management of water resources and the energy sustainability of agricultural practices, mitigates greenhouse gas production, improves soil quality, and more generally reduces the environmental footprint of agriculture and agri-food production and processing.
The third objective, improving attributes for food and non-food uses, includes RDT in the food and feed area that examines nutrition and health promotion, feed quality for animal production, food quality for marketable traits and characteristics, shelf life and post-harvest storage, edible vaccines, food processing and packaging. RDT in the area of non-food, or industrial, applications encompasses biofuels and bioenergy, feedstocks for pharmaceuticals, biochemicals, and fibre, as well as biopesticides and biofumigants.
The fourth objective, addressing threats to the agriculture and agri-food value chain, includes RDT that addresses significant production impacts related to biotic and abiotic stresses, and ensures food safety in agricultural production systems as well as processed and pre-packaged foods.
Integrated nature of strategies
The integrated nature of the strategies makes it important to consider them as a group, in terms of understanding the full contribution and impact of AAFC science activities. Some of the commodity-based strategies identify areas of focus for AAFC research, development and knowledge transfer to directly support production, but there are RDT activities in other strategies whose benefits extend beyond production, such as work to increase foundational knowledge of crop diseases and pests (Biodiversity and Bioresources Strategy), the impacts on crop production of changes in weather and climate conditions (Agro-Ecosystem Productivity and Health Strategy), or post-farm-gate processing (Agri-Food).
An overview of the sector science strategies is now available on AAFC’s website (www.agr.gc.ca/eng/science-and-innovation/science-publications-and-resources). In addition to providing the framework for the new strategic direction of AAFC’s Science and Technology Branch, the document highlights the areas where AAFC will focus its RDT efforts for each sector.
Since the strategies will be adapted as new challenges and opportunities arise, they will be updated on a regular basis using input from the sector and AAFC staff to keep them “evergreen.” This will enable AAFC to address new sector priorities as they emerge, taking into account changes in science and technology capacity.
These strategies will be shared with partners and will be used to communicate expectations concerning the appropriate role for AAFC’s RDT activities. This will enable the Science and Technology Branch to clarify its role in relation to academia, other AAFC branches, other government departments, and science partners outside of government (industry, academia, Value Chain Round Tables, and science clusters, to name a few) and lay the foundation for a stronger collaborative approach.
The priorities set forth in these strategies play a pivotal role in supporting AAFC’s overall mission: to provide leadership in the growth and development of a competitive, innovative and sustainable Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector. Working with the agriculture sector and Canada’s RDT community continues to be the key to helping Canadian agriculture and agri-food industries achieve a sustainable increase in productivity and profitability, respond to market demands for product attributes, and enable greater Canadian participation in global trade in agri-based products.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
2585 County Road 20, Harrow, ON N8W 5P3
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