If there is one thing I have written about before which I see as critical to the future of farming, at least as we know it, it is a public investment in varietal crop development.
It is great to see major corporations involved in crop research, but the result of that work often comes with substantial costs.
It's not that making a profit on its research doesn't make business sense, but those profits can limit a farmer's options, ranging from herbicides used on crop varieties with such gene technology, to how a crop is marketed or held over for planting in future years.
Farmers need to have options, and while corporate varieties work for many and are an important aspect of development as we move forward, there remains a place for public dollars to be at work as well.
Public dollars should be led by farmers themselves.
Check-offs on crop sales which co-op dollars for investment in research are hugely important as they provide farmers with some direct say in what research takes place. Whoever controls the purse strings has a lot to say about the direction research takes.
Farmer dollars also show their commitment, and that often helps convince government to invest tax dollars in public research as well.
It is, of course, important that governments, both federally and provincially, make that investment. While some in large cities might question why tax dollars go to creating better wheat, ultimately such research helps to ensure farmers will be able to continue to feed a growing population.
Varieties with better yields, or the ability to fight disease, to be resistant to insects, etc., all give farmers a better chance of meeting the food needs of a growing world population.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall touched on that need recently when he announced $10 million in new funding for wheat-related research over five years. The funding will go toward research projects that accelerate the development of wheat varieties and improve yield, quality and tolerance to disease and extreme weather conditions.
"It's time to put wheat back on top again," Wall said in a news release regarding the funding. "Early varieties like Marquis made farming worthwhile in all but the most inhospitable parts of the Prairies. It allowed the Prairies to become the breadbasket of the British Empire for the next 100 years. It's time to recapture that leadership, so Saskatchewan can help feed a hungry planet."
Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture Bob Bjornerud picked up on the same theme.
"We have some of the best producers in the world in Saskatchewan and we are committed to investing in research to address their needs," said Bjornerud in the same release. "This increased research funding will lead to new wheat varieties which will ultimately create long-term benefits for Saskatchewan farmers."
Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association chair Gerrid Gust spoke for the farm industry in welcoming the research dollars.
"Wheat has always been an important crop for Saskatchewan farmers and research is critical to our future," he said. "We are very pleased with this new funding which will give farmers the opportunity to increase profits and help our industry remain competitive in the world marketplace."
Certainly Wall's announcement should be seen as a worthwhile investment in not just the province's economy, but in ensuring a food supply for all.