Required focus on greenhouse gas emissions complicating rollout of new federal ag research funds

(Debra Murphy/RealAgriculture)

The federal government’s requirement that a certain amount of the research to be funded under the next five-year agricultural policy framework must focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is creating new complications for commodity groups applying for the funding.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has introduced new emissions- and climate-related criteria in the latest iteration of its AgriScience Cluster program under the new Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP), which is set to run from April 2023 into 2028.

The cluster program is designed to bring together farm groups, industry, government, and academia to address research priorities for a given commodity type or sector of Canadian agriculture.

AAFC has told commodity groups that a minimum of 15 per cent of the total cost of a new five-year research cluster must focus on greenhouse gas reductions and carbon sequestration, and a minimum of 30 per cent of total funding for a cluster must address environmental- and climate change-related issues.

Historically, the federal government has funded up to 70 per cent of the research done through the cluster program, with industry or commodity organizations providing the remainder. Under the new AgriScience program, only emissions-related research is eligible for the 70/30 funding ratio, with everything else, including other climate-related research, falling under a 50/50 funding ratio. This means industry and commodity groups that are funded by farmers and other supply chain stakeholders will have to come up with more money to fund the same level of research on any topics that are not emissions-related.

17 commodity and industry organizations (listed below) representing a cross-section of Canadian agriculture wrote a letter to Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau in September, asking for changes to the AgriScience Cluster program prior to the application intake period opening this month.

In the letter, the commodity groups asked the federal government to change the emissions and climate research thresholds from minimum requirements to recommendations, noting “minimums run counter to the original intent behind creating AgriScience over 15 years ago to support industry-led research priorities.”

“For the first time since the creation of the program, research projects under the Cluster program must meet minimum thematic requirements set by government. While we recognize that government can and should provide a framework for Cluster activities, rigid minimums on particular research topics and activities are counter to the stated intent and focus of the program,” the letter states.

Some groups say they’re concerned there is not enough scientific research capacity — both human and physical — in Canada to meet the greenhouse gas-related requirements, and that experts in agricultural emissions will be overloaded with projects under the new framework.

The commodity and industry groups also note in the letter to Bibeau that they “are hopeful that AgriScience will see a larger funding envelope under SCAP to reflect increased costs and scope of activities covered under the program.”

The concerns raised in the letter, if left unaddressed, “will severely compromise the viability of the AgriScience Cluster program and also our ability to support continued participation, based on the intent of the program,” say the commodity groups.

Representatives from several of these organizations say they have not received any reply from the agriculture minister or her office, as of early November.

RealAgriculture has also reached out to Minister Bibeau’s office and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for comment and more information.

Organizations that signed the Sept. 6 letter to Minister Bibeau calling for changes to the AgriScience program prior to its launch:

Ag-West Bio
Barley Council of Canada
BioMasse Canada
Canada Grains Council
Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance
Canadian Grapevine Certification Network
Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance
Canadian Poultry Research Council
Canadian Wheat Research Coalition
Canola Council of Canada
Cereals Canada
Fruit & Vegetable Growers of Canada
Organic Federation of Canada
Pulse Canada
Soy Canada
Swine Innovation Porc
Western Grains Research Foundation

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