Serge Buy, the CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC), is excited about the potential of Canada’s agricultural sector. The government estimates export growth of $20 billion by 2025. But the AIC has identified potential roadblocks that might hinder our potential.

The Canadian Agricultural Innovation System is a key driver of Canada’s economy. Innovations ranging from new crop varieties and livestock breeds to biotechnology advancements and alternative energy have made Canada competitive on a global scale.

But while Serge Buy, the CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, is excited about the potential of Canada’s $113.8-billion agricultural market, his organization’s recent report, An Overview of the Canadian Agricultural Innovation System, raises concerns over investments.

“Canada’s spending less on agriculture and innovation than a number of countries,” Buy says. “We’re seventh worldwide despite all of Canada’s potential.” Public investment is the largest source of funding for Canada’s agriculture research and development, but it’s been steadily declining over the last three decades. The report found that the private sector, another major funding source, has under-invested in and in some cases decreased agricultural investments in recent years.

Buy says we need to be more competitive, and part of this is ensuring that research is shared and implemented with Canadian farmers and producers effectively. He says that while sometimes it’s distributed and promoted well, other times it’s done poorly. “This means it doesn’t actually reach the end targets — the agricultural producers,” he says. This problem is compounded, Buy says, by poor rural broadband internet. AIC’s report found that rural broadband difficulties were one of the issues preventing farmers and producers from “realizing the full potential of large-scale research.”

“It’s hard to innovate when some producers are on dial-up,” says Buy.

Growing more with less

Nevertheless, Canada has made huge advances when it comes to sustainable agriculture. “In the past 20 years, what we’re able to grow on the same acreage has doubled — even tripled or quadrupled in some cases,” says Buy. “We’re much better at using land than we were in the past.”

According to Buy, the most pressing question for sustainable agriculture moving forward is whether or not the techniques in question are things we’ll still be using 100 years from now. It’s also imperative to factor the effects of climate change into agricultural planning. “Our researchers are looking at more drought-resistant crops or adapting crops, depending on the region,” says Buy.

Sustainability and market potential

Canada is currently the world’s fifth-largest global exporter of agri-food products, with annual sales of over $55 billion. But the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth estimates this could grow to $75 billion by 2025. Buy says the only way to sustainably stay on track with the desired growth is to examine market potential.

“Our concern is if you’re going to be looking at growing exports, let’s look at the market potential first and then use those findings when determining where to invest money,” says Buy. This ensures growth is sustainable, filling important gaps and meeting needs.

This is more urgent than ever, as nine billion people worldwide will need to be fed by 2050. “For Canada, this represents a huge opportunity,” says Buy.