Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Agriculture among corporate welfare bums

Canadian agriculture companies are prominent among those who are bellying up to government troughs for handouts for projects they ought to be funding themselves.

In today's Globe and Mail, there's a story about Agropur in line for grants from a $37.8-million federal-government fund to encourage companies to use genomics to tackle challenges and develop markets.

Agropur intends to use genomics to better understand how cheeses ripen. Surely this is a project it could afford to tackle on its own without welfare from Canadian taxpayers.

Apparently agriculture projects account for more than half of those the government will soon announce it is funding.

And then there's the MaRS Centre in downtown Toronto.

When it was launched, farmers were told that the genetic research that would be conducted there would focus on medicine and agriculture.

There's nothing being said these days about agriculture, even though the centre was run by Ken Knox, a former deputy of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Instead the name has changed the "a" for "agriculture" to "and" - Medical and Related Sciences.

The centre has been in the news recently as a monstrous failure, sucking $450,000 a month because the 20-storey building for labs and offices stands mostly empty. The government is writing a cheque for $308 million for that one part of MaRS.

And when it comes to failures to convert research into practical and profitable solutions, the track record at the University of Guelph stands out. By comparison, the University of Waterloo, just west of Guelph, is doing research that is supporting hundreds of high-tech companies.

It's high time agriculture companies learned how to either do their own research, or to pick research teams that can do it for them. And with their own dollars. That should be particularly true for the coddled supply-managed dairy and poultry sectors.