Charting the path forward for the livestock sector with research and innovation
By Lilian Schaer
A new report puts research, innovation and a comprehensive policy approach as core pillars underpinning the successful future of Canada’s livestock industry. The Forces Impacting Animal Agriculture in Canada: A Synthesis report by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) notes that the complexity and interconnectedness of animal agriculture means its value and impact can’t be measured with simple metrics and that many challenges and opportunities are shared across members of the sector.
This means the industry needs common solutions, including growth-oriented policies; investment in research and innovation; transportation and other infrastructure; and an enhanced data framework. Risks facing animal agriculture are growing, like
disease, loss of land or markets, and extreme weather, and require greater focus and innovative policy solutions to provide meaningful impacts.
At the same time, Canadian animal agriculture has among the lowest emissions intensities in the world. Policies that integrate sustainability, food security and growth can help meet climate targets and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and build Canada’s comparative advantage on the world stage.
Different provincial government initiatives play an important role in supporting and driving the sector’s future. For example, in the summer of 2023, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks released a climate change impact assessment it had commissioned from the Climate Risk Institute. It is very difficult to capture agriculture’s complexity in a provincial-scale climate change impact assessment, but the report did highlight the gravity of the issue and the need for responsible action by everyone involved.
Last year, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) announced its Grow Ontario Strategy, which contained ambitious production and export growth goals for the agriculture sector. To help reach those goals, we need to increase agri-food innovation and adoption through research infrastructure, ensure translation of research into practical solutions and encourage uptake of those solutions, and increase the use and measurement of data-driven solutions.
This past fall, OMAFRA announced proposed legislative changes that would modernize the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO) Act. The ARIO advises the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on research matters and owns much of Ontario’s agricultural research infrastructure.
Proposed changes include updating ARIO’s name to Agricultural Research and Innovation Ontario, updating its mandate to support innovation, commercialization, new research solutions and new relationships, and updating provisions that support the effective operation of the organization.
The findings of the CAPI report support LRIC’s A2B approach to research and innovation – where are we, where do we want to go and what are the steps we need to get there, which can include innovation, research, regulation, policy and advocacy, for example.
Important for success is considering what matters to industry, to consumers and to government – and looking for commonalities. For the industry, key issues are antimicrobial resistance, climate change impact and adjustment, emergency preparedness, labour, animal welfare, water, soil health and alternative protein consumption.
Consumers, by comparison, care about their health, the health of the planet and animal welfare, for government, it’s the economy, the environment and food security that matters.
To help bring all of that together, LRIC has been encouraging the sector and its stakeholders to view innovation as a circular system that includes funding, research priorities, project management, getting research into practice (GRIP) and commercialization.
And LRIC has taken proactive approaches that will help give the livestock sector the tools it needs for success. The LRIC Emerging Trends and Opportunities Committee provides direction to our board on creating and increasing awareness across the sector regarding emerging trends and their research and innovation requirements.
Our International Research Advisory Committee provides input from beyond Canada’s borders, including helping ensure we are aware of global developments and how the Ontario livestock sector can adopt or adapt international research approaches toward improved progress.
We’ve also developed a mentorship program for early career faculty to help them make better connections with industry and bolster the relevance of their research to addressing real problems farmers face. And our Early Career Research Award is designed to foster more collaborative and cross-sector research.
All of this is aligned with LRIC’s new five-year strategic plan, which has a three-fold approach:
- Provide members services and a centralized hub for livestock research, innovation, networking and mentorship.
- Seek and stimulate continuous improvement of the innovation system by all stakeholders.
- Be the trusted intermediary between industry, government and academia.
We will accomplish this by delivering on five areas of focus, including member services, research services, strategic intelligence, engagement and collaboration, and getting research into practice (GRIP).
The CAPI study Forces Impacting Animal Agriculture in Canada: A Synthesis was funded by LRIC, Grand River Agricultural Society, UFA Co-operative, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Canadian Cattle Association.
Livestock Research Innovation Corporation is funded in part by the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP), a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial initiative. This article, originally published in the December 2023 edition of Milk Producer, is provided by LRIC as part of its ongoing efforts to report on research, innovation, and issues affecting the Canadian livestock industry.