A path forward for Ontario’s livestock innovation system
New report makes recommendations for change, continuous improvement
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
The need for innovation – and research to drive that innovation – is a popular topic in the agriculture sector at the moment. Livestock producers in particular are being told they need innovation to be more productive, improve animal welfare, fight climate change and compete against plant and cell-based products.
According to Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) CEO Mike McMorris, Ontario has a very good livestock innovation system, but as with anything, there is always room for improvement and ways of doing things better.
“Our organization has a mandate of continuous improvement, achieved best by working with all parties in the system, which includes industry organizations, University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,” he explains.
It’s that mandate that led to a recent review of the innovation system by LRIC’s International Research Advisory Committee, a process that included a review of written briefs, and surveys of University of Guelph faculty and industry organizations. McMorris is pleased with the response rate of 53 faculty and 11 industry organizations, noting it demonstrates keen interest in charting a new course forward.
“The report is concise by design and brings clear focus to the need for more collaboration between industry, government and academia,” he says. “This is something we’ve been hearing about anecdotally for some time, and this report confirms the need to make this a stronger priority for the livestock industry.”
The resulting report includes 10 recommendations developed by the committee that reflect the feedback received and can help result in meaningful change:
- Closer working relationships between research and industry, along with well-defined problem statements from the industry
- Adequate funding for Ontario’s new research and innovation facilities to ensure optimal return on the investment
- Establishment of research priorities using a collaborative approach that involves industry, government, and faculty
- Willingness by the livestock sector to look sideways and learn about the issues and opportunities in other sectors
- Competitively priced overhead charges at research facilities
- More focus on the entire innovation system instead of one of siloed activities
- Collaboration by industry, government and faculty to create a new system of Getting Research Into Practice (GRIP) with an industry champion for each project.
- Include excellence in GRIP and building strong relationships with industry as part of the faculty reward system
- Engage social sciences to help improve adoption of research results
- A Canada-first focus in commercialization.
According to McMorris, LRIC will be focusing on two specific areas over the next year: developing a new process of setting research priorities and a new model for getting research into practice.
When it comes to research priority setting, LRIC is recommending annual “Shark Tank” sessions to give researchers early industry input into research ideas; the goal is to pilot this approach with one sector during the upcoming year. On a larger scale, biennial meetings with all parties would be beneficial to address the “What, So what, Now what?” of research and innovation.
The report also recommends the encouragement and incentivization of cross-disciplinary research proposals – projects that include faculty from more than one department or school. Many of the big issues facing the livestock industry today will require solutions from a variety of fields, from health and welfare to environment, data, engineering, and economics, for example.
The third recommendation under research priority setting calls for predictability. Specifically, it encourages release of the research priority document by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs at a consistent time of year to give more time for industry input and proposal submission.
Industry, faculty, LRIC and OMAFRA must all work together to develop a new GRIP system. This new system should include enhanced communications, better and more timely communication of project results from the various Ontario research centres, and coordination of an annual livestock conference that brings together representatives from across the sector for learning and discussion.
Researchers should receive training and tools on how to be more effective at sharing their research results and participation in these types of activities should be included in faculty reward programs to encourage more widespread uptake and adoption.
As well, the popular Dairy at Guelph model – which is being emulated by the beef industry with the newly launched Beef at Guelph program – should be replicated across other livestock sectors too, like swine, poultry, and small ruminants.
The full IRAC report is available here.
This article was published in the August 2022 issue of Ontario Beef.