The president of Canada’s Agriculture Union says further government job cuts in farming and research will mean lost opportunities for the future, while adding that quarantine downsizing presents a serious risk to growers.
Bob Kingston spoke with www.freshfruitportal.com after it was announced that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada would be slashing hundreds of jobs. A report from the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CBC) estimated the number of notices close to 700.
Kingstone said the move showed the current government did not care about fundamental research that served as a backbone for private sector innovation in agriculture.
He cited several pioneering examples from state-funded Canadian research initiatives that had impacted the international horticultural community.
“A group of researchers in British Columbia took potato plants, taking meristematic tissue, cuttings from them and learning to produce plants that could outgrow any viruses contained in them, and then take further cutting until there was literally no virus left,” he said.
“Every virus-free potato program in the world was based on the research that Agriculture Canada did. That’s a perfectly good example where people took the results of research, innovated and produced virus-free rootstock.”
Kingston also highlighted Agriculture Canada’s research in developing the processing-oriented Russet Burbank potato that does not show leaf roll symptoms.
He also pointed to the role Agriculture Canada has played in developing tools for plant health diagnostics, such as monoclonal antibodies and the double diffusion process, which can be used by labs to quickly detect disease.
“There’s public research, academic research and private research, and they all have a fundamental role to play. They [the government] just don’t appreciate the part that public research plays so they’ve been trying to get rid of it as fast as they can for the last two years,” he said.
“I think we’re going to be in a tougher spot than the Americans down the road, because like any other industry you want to invest where you’ve got an infrastructure to support your investment, and if Canada’s doing away with its agricultural research, a lot of agricultural entities are not going to want to play in that field.
“It used to be that people came to Canada to see how we did what we did and why we were so successful. I think those days are numbered now.”
Before joining the Agriculture Union in Ottawa., Kingston was an inspection supervisor in Vancouver. He told www.freshfruitportal.com there was a high risk of undetected pest incursions since the Harper administration began “streamlining” quarantine services.
“There have been a few [detections] but the biggest problems are still to come. A few years back they transferred a lot of the services to customs, and there was supposed to be some dialogue between the food inspection agency and customs and border protection services, to try and bring that surveillance back to where it was.
“I’ve just recently had word from some of our labs that the number of border submissions they’re getting has dwindled to almost nothing, which means our surveillance has dwindled to almost nothing.
“I used to deal with this all the time. We would find a pest and eradicate it – we would find problems with a shipment and it would be quarantined, we’d do an appropriate disposal or in some cases it would be incinerated on the spot.”
He said if detections were not made and pests were allowed to gain a foothold in the country, it would likely be too late for eradication.
“I know they come in because I spent so many years supervising, and they would come in frequently – this means they’re coming in undetected.
“Some of these things like Asian Longhorn Beetle or Asian Gipsy Moth, once they get in and established it’s going to be a nightmare.”