Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

September 23, 2005 18:14 ET

AAFC: Minister Mitchell's Speech at the Launching of the Agriculture Science and Innovation Consultations, Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research Centre

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Sept. 23, 2005) -

Kentville, NS

September 22, 2005

Today I want to talk to you about science. As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, I see a tremendous amount of complexity in the industry. Whether that be the complexity that you see here in conducting scientific research, the complexity of being a producer, or the complex of trading in a global market, there are a lot of complexities in our agriculture and agri-food industry.

When you get right down to the heart of it, my job as the Minister of Agriculture is fairly straightforward and quite essential. What I try to do is to create an environment that supports producers in there efforts to make a living. If a farmer can't earn a living from farming, he's not going to farm, she's not going to farm and the next generation isn't going to farm.

That's not simply a problem for producers. It's not simply a problem for the rural communities that support our agriculture. That's a problem for the country because if we're not able to produce our own food, if we're not able to continue to create the wealth that agriculture community creates in this country, it diminishes not just the industry, not just for rural Canada, it weakens the whole country.

Agriculture is a national issue and with national issues at stake it's really critical that we come back to income and insure that our agri-food industry, the whole agricultural industry is profitable. It is absolutely critical that we have sustainable rural communities, ones that support our agriculture industry and for that matter our other natural resource industries. Whether it is mining or forestry or fisheries or our oil and gas industry, it is for this country to continue to succeed, both urban and rural Canada must be strong.

It doesn't work to have a very vibrant, expanding urban economy surrounded by a weaker and declining rural economy. That's not a model that's going to work in this country. Both must be strong and agriculture is a big part of that. The work that you do as part of our science program contributes to making sure that our agriculture industry is strong.

When you go about trying to ensure that there is profitability for our producers, there are a number of things that you need to do, and I like to sort of generalize them into three broad areas. First of all, the whole issue of making sure that our producers can get a return on the work that they do. We need to make sure that the distribution of wealth along the value chain is done in such a way that a sufficient amount of that wealth flows down to the primary producer. To create the environment that enables that flow to happen has to be one of the priorities of governments of all stripes. It has to happen with governments working with industry and producers.

My colleague, Wayne Easter, who is my parliament secretary, issued a report that spoke directly to that particular challenge. He had a number of suggestions in there and as federal and provincial ministers, we took up that report in our Federal-Provincial meeting last July.

Secondly, we've got to make sure that Canadian producers can operate on a level playing field in terms of our international marketplace. The reality is that we export around a quarter of everything that we produce that generates wealth. Our ability to create that wealth is dependent on our agriculture industries ability to trade and they need to a rules-based trading system.

That is why our negotiations in the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization are so important. So that we can do something about those export subsidies that have an impact on Canadian producers. That we can do something about lowering the domestic supports that are provided by other industrialized countries, that are making it very challenging to have that level playing field. So that we can increase our market access and do it in a way to give Canadian producers the choice in their domestic marketing regimes and the way that they want to market their products in this country.

So that's the second part of what we need to do.

This brings me to my third point, and that's the whole issue of innovation. As we compete around the world, there are countries that have some competitive advantages that we don't have. If you think about it climate for one, there are countries around the world that have a growing season in some cases 10, 11, 12 months. They have input costs that are far lower than the cost that we face.

But there is a great Canadian competitive advantage. And you know what? In a large respect, it's sitting in this room. It's our ability to innovate. It's our ability to take our research and commercialize it. It's our ability to be one step ahead of our competition. That's been the hallmark of our agricultural industry over the last decades and it's one of the things that is going to be there to make sure that we are competitive into the future.

Our science program, the work that the men and women at this station do and the work that the men and women across this country do is absolutely essential to the long-term sustainability of the agriculture and agri-food industry and for that industry to continue to contribute to the Canadian economy.

Many people don't realize that today, agriculture makes up 8 per cent of our gross domestic product. Almost one in eight jobs in Canada is based on agriculture and agri-food. That's a significant contribution to Canada and to Canadians, and the people here are a big part of making that happen.

We need to make sure that as we innovate in terms of our industry that we innovate in terms of our science program. I'm here today to announce as I referred to in June that I have asked the Department to undertake a comprehensive review of our whole science program.

Part of that review is we are going to have a thorough and broad-based discussion with all the interested parties and Canadians about the direction that we ought to be going into the future.

That review is going to take many different forms. The key part of it, or the culmination, if I can put it that way, will be a national symposium that's going to take place in the national capital region towards the end of November. It is going to bring together people from all of the different sectors, from the Agriculture and Agri-food and other federal departments, from provincial governments, from the industry, from producers, from academia, so that we can together have a good discussion about where we have been and about where we want to go.

We are not just going to leave it as a national discussion because research is not simply about our national objectives. It is also about regions and regional concerns because although agriculture is a national industry, it doesn't operate the same way in all parts of the country. In addition to having that national symposium, we are also going to be conducting 11 regional conferences, including one here in Nova Scotia, so that we can have input here locally about what the concerns are for this region of the country, the types of priorities that exist here, the types of ways that we can help producers who operate in this part of the country.

On top of the national perspective, we also want to achieve a regional perspective as well.

Beyond that, there are specific consultations that we will undertake. I have advisory boards on research that will provide input. Some of you are familiar with our value chain roundtables where we bring together in a particular sector people right up and down the value chain. Well, we're going to talk to those folks as well about their ideas of the type of research that we ought to do.

We're going to have this broad-based discussion so that the decisions that we take aren't simply coming out of the ninth floor of the Sir John Carling Building. You know, all knowledge isn't resident there. It's tough for me to say that sometimes because for those of you who don't know, that's where my offices are located.

But it's important that this review include all of the stakeholders and all of the people who are involved in it.

Now, in announcing that such a review was going to take place back in June, I also enunciated a number of principles that I have instructed to be followed in terms of that review and I want to over them here because they are important.

Number one is that our national investment in science will be held at least at its current level, if not better. This review is not about reducing what we do. It's about making what we do more effective and finding ways to increase what we do. It's not about reducing it.

Secondly, we also set as one of the principles that we will maintain our research investment in the provinces generally at the same amount that they are now with a recognition that we need to continue to do research right across this country and to respond to local concerns and regional challenges.

Thirdly we need to ensure that the science and research undertaken will meet the needs of industry. We must do it in a way that takes the regional variances into account.

We must ensure that our research is done in an integrated way. We need to find the types of synergies between departments, between governments, between governments and the academia, between governments and the universities and the colleges and the industry. We need to find those synergies and we need to make them work for us.

We will make sure that we provide the facilities to the men and women that are working on our programs so that they can do their work better and continue to make the significant contributions that they have.

I'm very excited about this science review because as I said, what you're able to accomplish, the work that you're able to do is absolutely critical to the well-being of the agricultural industry in this country and therefore critical to the well-being of the country as a whole.

You have made significant contributions. You work hard, you innovate, many of you, if not all of you haven't heard or know the word "no". You go that extra mile.

I want to say something to you very personally and very directly, and that is thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for what you've accomplished. Thank you for what you're going to do in the future.

So I look forward to collaborating with you in this review and I look forward in developing the highest program that is second to none in the world as we move forward and make ourselves the most innovative, the most aggressive and the best in the world.

Thank you very much.

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