Ontario feasting on agricultural research results

They say the best partnerships are those in which each party thinks they're the lucky one.

So no wonder people were pleased are at the University of Guelph, at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and at farm and consumer groups across the province, and beyond, about a report saying Ontario reaps a $1.1-billion benefit every year by investing in agricultural research at the university.

The province dedicates $54-million a year to the unique partnership for research and services between the university and the agriculture ministry. Both parties have often contended this investment was yielding big results — and many of them were highly visible, such as Omega-3 eggs and DHA milk — but neither party knew the actual size of the returns.

So, the university commissioned a reputable third party, Deloitte and Touche LLP, to help put some numbers to the partnership's value. And after looking at the outcome of the research, the accounting firm determined the benefit was more than 20-fold.

And it didn't stop there. Taking into account the partnership also helps drive benefits to the environment, to public policy and to health, the study concluded the partnership's agreement couldn't be solely measured in economic terms. For example, with support from the partnership, researchers at Guelph monitor and prevent public health threats including SARS, Avian Flu and BSE.

The bottom line is that the agreement between the province and university is productive and efficient.

Here's how it works. The province dedicates the money so the university can maintain a research infrastructure — personnel, facilities and equipment — that gives it a foundation to tackle challenges faced by the agri-food sector, such as production, food, human and animal health and policy matters.

The research agreement is unique among universities and ministries of agriculture in Canada.

It stems from the close relationship between the province and the Ontario Agricultural College that began in the late 1800s and was formalized in the 1930s. It took its biggest step forward in 1996, when the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the university entered into an enhanced partnership agreement. At that time, the university assumed responsibility for additional facilities run by the ministry, including three agricultural colleges (in Alfred, Kemptville and Ridgetown) and the provincial food-testing laboratory in Guelph.

This foundation attracts addition support from industry and sparks the creation of new knowledge. That might be technologies, products, policies, approaches to solving problems, you name it.

And the partnership has also built an incredible community. The Deloitte and Touche report notes how an unparalleled agri-food cluster has grown in Guelph, comprising 60 agricultural companies, 24 research facilities and 6,000 jobs, making up 10 per cent of Guelph's workforce. The implications for the agri-food sector cannot be underestimated. And neither can the impact on all of Ontario, which benefits in so many ways from better food and a healthier environment, not to mention a vibrant workforce, especially with the challenges we've faced in the manufacturing sector.

The key is that all groups have shown a desire to work together. That's not easy in agriculture, which is so diverse and populated by participants who have legitimately varied agendas. But with these kinds of results possible, the partnership has been a kind of glue to pull together the agri-food industry, from farmers to manufacturers, to work together.

You can see the results for yourself this holiday season, when you go to the grocery store, when you cook meals for family and friends, and when you marvel at our standard of living.

Over the holidays, I hope you have a minute to remember the people who've worked hard to put food on our plates, and the infrastructure that's in place to keep us healthy.




About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.