April 2010 Archives
I work out of my basement office, so it is easy for me to loose track of things. But as we observe Earth Day this week I was just trying to update myself on who is producing biofuels in Western Canada.
Husky has a four-year-old ethanol plant at Lloydminster, Sask. and an upgraded facility at Minnedosa MB, and Poundmaker at Lannigan, Sask. has been operating for many years. There is a fairly new 25 million litre ethanol plant owned by NorAmera BioEnergy Corp. at Weyburn, Sask. But is there anyone else?
Three or four years ago, at farm meetings, if you weren’t ready to invest in your local, neighborhood biofuel project you were disrespecting motherhood and missing out on a great industry-saving opportunity. When all these ethanol and biodiesel facilities began operating there was a real risk of a shortage of canola margarine, and even wheat to make the bread to spread it on.
I recall at one conference there was a brawl in the alley between a group of biofuel project organizers and a committee planning a producer-run meat packing plant. They were squabbling over available land for their developments. All seems pretty quiet today.
I was just reading this morning a company called BioStreet Canada is working on plans to build a biodiesel plant at Vegreville, AB. They are a bit behind with their plans. It was supposed to be open in 2008 and now they are looking at 2012, but it doesn’t sound like they’ve poured any footings yet.
I’m not trying to be cynical, but I was just curious if there was a flourishing biofuel industry out there and I was missing it.
Yes, that is just what Agriculture Canada needs is more budget cuts. I was just reading recently where the federal government plans to cut the Ag Canada budget by nearly half – 45 percent – or $1.5 billion over the next three years.
First of all it amazes me that the regular Ag Canada budget is or was $3.5 billion….I think that use to be Canada’s national budget a few years ago. Where have I been? But the new figure will be just under $2 billion by 2013.
I am all in favor of a government saving money, but too often these budget cuts affect the wrong programs. Instead of working on the spare tire around the waist, it becomes a hatchet job on fingers, toes and even arms and legs.
Whether it be a provincial government or the federal department of agriculture, the escalating-trend over the past 10 years has been to get away from the nuts and bolts research and development – the good old R & D – the down-in-the-dirt stuff that can really benefit farmers. The preference is to put more emphasis on supposedly higher profile support programs, which someone hopes will at least impress a senior bureaucrat, gag the opposition, and/or impress voters.
I have seen a number of good researchers who know how plants grow or which end a cow craps from, who get shuffled off into some bureaucratic administration position for a great new save-the-industry program, that makes the director or the minister look good. And those who aren’t pulled out of active service, spend half or more of their time filling out paper work to apply to 125 different funding sources, or trying to schmooze some corporate partner to kick in a few bucks, because there is no core funding for this long term research in the annual budget.
The other thing I see on visits to research centres is a lot of grey hair. What’s going to happen to fundamental agricultural research when these old farts decide to hang up their white smocks? Are there enough bright young minds coming into the business to carry on this work, who are prepared to bitch and barter for every dime to keep a field research program going?
Yes, I hear people argue that times have changed. Farmers spend too much time worrying about production and they should spend more time on business management and marketing and the global economy. And those are increasingly more important elements of the agriculture industry too.
But damn it all, as we get down to razor thin margins it is also increasingly important that producers have the tools and the knowledge to optimize yields or have the most efficient rate of gain possible. And so much of that depends on independent, unbiased, critical crop and livestock production research.
I know the image of some plant breeder sitting on an overturned five-gallon pail in a variety plot on a 30-degree day, or a livestock researcher up to their armpit with a gloved arm down the back end of a cow may not capture the public imagination like the ribbon cutting of a new art gallery, but if politicians and senior trained-seal bureaucrats keep whacking away at fundamental research and development programs, federal and provincial research centres will become little more than museums themselves.
Save a dollar if you can, but if there was that much fat in the system, why not turn some of that $1.5 billion “cut” back into funding-starved R & D projects. Some how I doubt stripping that $1.5 billion out of agriculture is going to reduce taxes and increase my take home pay any time soon.