AIC Notes Top         Issue 2012-11        March 15, 2012 
In This Issue
Vegetable Growers Pursue Management Strategies
Energy, Agriculture Sectors Lead [Saskatchewan] Export Boom
Food Prices Too Low, Says Farm Expert
Specialty Foods Have Different Regulatory Needs from Mainstream Products: Report
Canada Welcomes US-Proposed Modernized Import Regulations for BS
Approaching Organic No-Till on the Canadian Prairies
Canada Advances into Brave New World of Synthetic Biology
Enriched Fruits Possible With Infusion Technique, Study Shows
Monsanto Plans Tests of First Approved Corn Engineered to Deal with Drought
Neglecting Prominent Role of Women in Agriculture Hindering Solutions to Food Security
Strengthening the Bond Between Policy and Science
Experts Develop Salt-Tolerant, High-Yield Wheat
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

Vegetable Growers Pursue Management Strategies  


Research conducted at the University of Guelph and elsewhere has shown cover crops -- sometimes called "green manure" -- help replenish the soil by reducing erosion, sequestering nitrogen and improving pest management.


Now, to help vegetable growers reap the benefits of such crops, the federal government is dedicating more than $230,000 to help producers study the optimal soil conditions for growing cover crops, as part of a healthy crop rotation.


This two-year research program will be conducted by the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers. It will assess how cover crops such as annual rye, wheat, oats and oilseed radishes are affected by residual herbicides that have been applied to previously rotated crops such as soybeans or corn.


"As growers continue to make their farms environmentally sustainable, this project will help determine the compatibility of potential cover crops within vegetable production systems," says growers' association chair Phil Richards, a processing tomato grower from Dresden, Ont.


Federal Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson, Member of Parliament for Niagara Falls, announced the support from his home riding. He says vegetable growers play an important role in driving jobs and economic growth in his region, too.


"This investment will help vegetable producers implement economically and environmentally sustainable weed-management practices, leading to increased production and a stronger bottom line," he says.


The processing vegetable growers' organization represents about 600 farmers across Ontario. It negotiates prices, terms and conditions of sale for growers of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, green peas, green and wax beans, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, peppers, pumpkin, squash and lima beans.


In November, the University of Guelph's Ridgetown campus, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs came together for a cover crop open house near Chatham and Ridgetown. There, growers saw the performance of fields where cover crops were planted after tomatoes, snap beans, sweet corn and seed corn.


Owen Roberts, FCC Express, March 9, 2012


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Energy, Agriculture Sectors Lead [Saskatchewan] Export Boom 


Saskatchewan's exports - agricultural and merchandise - have been doing well, with no signs of letting up.


A news release issued this week by Enterprise Saskatchewan, the province's economic development agency, said the value of Saskatchewan merchandise exports in January reached a total of $2.74 billion, an increase of 31 per cent over January 2011.


Over the same period, energy product exports were valued at $1.3 billion, up 93.5 per cent.


"Machinery and equipment was up by 44.0 per cent and consumer goods were also up by 13.3 per cent," said the agency.


Meanwhile, agricultural exports in January were $682.1 million, 21.5 per cent higher than in January 2011.


Looking back over 2011, Saskatchewan's agri-food exports exceeded $10 billion in value, vaulting the province past Ontario "as the top agri-food exporting province in Canada," the provincial ministry of agriculture added.


Top exports were canola seed, canola oil and non-durum wheat. Following them were peas, durum, lentils and canola meal.


In fact, canola continued decades of growth, overtaking non-durum wheat as the top agricultural export commodity with canola seed exports hitting $2.1 billion in 2011 - a 250-per-cent increase from 2007 and 30-percent above 2010.


The top five export markets for Saskatchewan's agricultural products are the U.S., China, Japan, Mexico and India.


Added the agriculture ministry: "Since 2007, Saskatchewan agri-food exports have increased by 60 per cent, from $6 billion to $10 billion."


In terms of value, the highest growth rates for agricultural products have been in soybeans, which rose by 1,145 per cent between 2010 and 20011, going to $71 million from a small base of only $5.7 million, and canola oil, which rose to $1.6 billion from $921 million in 2010 and $481 million in 2009.


Close behind was durum wheat (at $1.6 billion, 64.5 per cent ahead of 2010) and canola meal (which was at $460 million last year, a 56.6-per-cent boost over 2010).


Non-durum wheat - long a Saskatchewan staple export - was $1.859 billion last year, only 8.5 per cent above 2010.


Falling export values were shown in lentils (at $835 million, about 15 per cent less than the year before) and flaxseed, exports of which were $184 million, a 27.7-percent fall from 2010.


But the biggest export fall was in live cattle, the value of which fell to $93 million last year, compared with $170.9 million in 2010 and $160.7 million in 2009. The value of live swine exports, on the other hand, rose by 18.9 per cent to $18.9 million.


All figures are in Canadian dollars.


Leader-Post, March 15, 2012


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Food Prices Too Low, Says Farm Expert


Canada as a society needs to start spending more money on food, a meeting of farmers was told in Charlottetown Thursday.


Av Singh, a specialist in organic and rural infrastructure at AgraPoint in Nova Scotia, was speaking at the P.E.I. ADAPT annual general meeting and conference. Singh said at current prices a small-scale agricultural approach is not going to work. He feels Canadians would be willing to spend more on food if it was thought of as more than simple sustenance.


"We need to make food a more integral part of our community," said Singh.


"When it becomes a more integral part of our community we realize that food can also be part of our entertainment. It's nice to come together and have social meals together, it's nice to come together and shop together, it's nice to come together and cook together."


Singh said that doesn't mean throwing out the satellite TV, just expanding how people think about food.


Traditional knowledge being lost


Singh said farmers are also losing the knowledge needed to make small-scale agriculture work.


With fewer farmers working larger farms, knowledge that has been built up over generations is lost. Singh is working in Nova Scotia to connect new farmers to some of that knowledge.


"What I'm noticing a lot with a lot of our new entrants into agriculture is that they are trying to get a better understanding of some of that traditional knowledge that we have in our area," he said.


"One of the things I really try to encourage when I have a new entrant come to a particular area is to go and visit that farmer who has been farming there for many generations."


Part of perserving that knowledge is saving your own seed, rather than buying from dealers every spring. Singh said P.E.I. farmers do a good job at saving seeds from potatoes and barley, but not when it comes to vegetables.


Singh said plants that have passed through generations in a particular area have the best chance of thriving.


"When it comes to vegetable production we want to have ones that can respond to climate variations," he said.


"Reconnect to that idea, reconnect to the importance of that whole philosophy, that being that a real right of a farmer to be able to collect seed."


Having plants that can adapt to local conditions may become increasingly important as the climate changes.


CBC News, March 9, 2012


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Specialty Foods Have Different Regulatory Needs from Mainstream Products: Report 


Canada's specialty food industry needs a little more understanding from government, according to a just-released report commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and prepared by the Value Chain Management Centre.


"The major response from those in the industry is that government is more of an obstacle than a service provider," says Martin Gooch, a director with the Value Chain Management Centre.

Gooch says specialty items exist in all food sectors, but are just a little bit different than mainstream products. They could be items that appeal only to ethnic shoppers, or products that cater to the needs of those with allergies or those on doctor-stipulated diets.


"There is a need to provide a more objective and informed platform for government and industry to develop a more effective specialty food system," he says. "This is about how we can enable innovation to respond to consumer demand.


"Most of the regulations now in effect are not designed for specialty foods, but for mainstream commodities," adds Gooch.


"This is not at all about reducing food safety standards," he says. It's about bringing Canadian standards in line with internationally accepted standards to more easily accommodate importers.


The industry is also asking for more government support with its market intelligence and consumer research.


"With immigration and changing diets there are so many factors that are driving change in the food industry," says Gooch.


Dave Pink, Better Farming, March 8, 2012


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Canada Welcomes US-Proposed Modernized Import Regulations for BSE 


The Government of Canada welcomes the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to modernize its import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The proposed changes are based on World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines, which Canada also follows.


"Canada supports today's announcement as we have always maintained that a science-based approach is the best way to manage BSE," said Agriculture Minister Ritz. "We know that trade should not be affected when countries such as Canada and the United States put in place appropriate measures to protect human and animal health."


OIE guidelines allow for live cattle and beef products to be safely traded, provided that countries have taken appropriate steps to manage BSE, such as feed controls and surveillance. This announcement follows Minister Ritz's trade mission to Washington, D.C. where he raised the importance of trade based on sound science and rules that are in line with the international guidelines of the OIE.


Given the integrated North American cattle market, Canada already enjoys a strong trade relationship with the US. This proposed approach underscores the commitment on both sides of the border to responsibly manage BSE, without placing unnecessary restrictions on trade.


Canada continues to effectively manage BSE through a series of integrated safeguards designed to protect both human and animal health. These include prohibiting risk materials from entering the human food and animal feed chains and testing cattle for BSE.


The USDA is accepting comments on its proposed rule for 60 days. For more information on the proposal, visit


AAFC Press Release, March 9, 2012


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Approaching Organic No-Till on the Canadian Prairies 


Organic farmers and researchers are seeking methods of reducing tillage. Although tillage can have negative effects, such as increasing the potential for erosion, it can have benefits as well. In organic systems, tillage is frequently used to kill green manures and to reduce weed populations. Finding ways to retain these benefits, while reducing tillage is a challenge for organic research.


Killing green manures

Traditionally, green manures are used to add nutrients to the soil, and improve nutrient cycling. Usually the green manure is allowed to grow until flowering, and then it is "incorporated", or tilled into the soil. 


The wide blade cultivator, an invention of Alberta farmer Alfred Nobel, cuts plants off below the soil surface. The surface is left largely undisturbed, with plants dead, but standing.  In semiarid regions, it can leave up to 85% of crop residues on the soil surface and effectively controlled annual weeds.


The blade roller crimps a green manure. The crop remains attached to the soil, but dries out and dies, leaving a mulch cover. The roller has been very effective at killing green manures, and the resulting mulch has been relatively weed-free. On the downside, some of the nitrogen benefits of the green manure may be lost, resulting in lower yield in the following crop.
Perhaps the most creative approach to terminating green manures is to return to nature's system: grazing. Approximately 80% of the nutrients that livestock graze are returned to the soil, and livestock provide an economic benefit as well.  In a test at Carman MB, grazing at full bloom effectively terminated all legume green manures. The effects on nitrogen differed in the two test locations.  Yield of the subsequent wheat crop was not reduced by grazing in this test.


Mulches to suppress weeds

If green manures are laid on the soil surface, rather than incorporated, they may provide the additional benefit of being a weed suppressing mulch. Research across the prairies suggests that residues from crops like alfalfa and sweetclover can provide nitrogen benefits, conserve soil moisture, and suppress annual weeds.

Research is beginning to find effective ways of reducing or eliminating tillage for green manure termination, and using that green manure as a weed suppressing, water retaining, mulch. This work has the potential to provide organic farmers with more ways to nurture and steward their soil.   

Brenda Frick, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, March 12, 2012


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Canada Advances into Brave New World of Synthetic Biology 


Peter Facchini sits at a cluttered little table in a small office at the University of Calgary. His arms bulge with muscles, his face is tanned, his jaw determined. He's looks more like Indiana Jones than a biochemist who is fascinated by the inner life of plants and spends a lot time in greenhouses.


But Facchini and a team of researchers at several Canadian universities are definitely exploring unknown territory. They are not only genetically decoding certain plants, they are identifying and cataloguing the functions of key genes and enzymes in those plants so they can be used to create new pharmaceuticals, foods, industrial chemicals or insecticides.


"The real leadership in the field of plant biochemistry is from Saskatchewan and west," Facchini says confidently, his small office belying his international reputation. This week he's off to Japan to speak about his findings.


Facchini, who was born and raised in Toronto and completed his PhD at U of T, first made a name for himself a few years ago when his team of researchers identified the genes that program cells and enzymes in the opium poppy to synthesize codeine, morphine and a variety of other pharmaceutically important alkaloids.


The opium poppy is the only source for these vitally important pain relievers. But it has earned a bad name for itself since morphine is also used to make heroin.


As it stands now, poppies must be sown and harvested so the codeine and morphine can be extracted. Some are grown for legal purposes in countries like Australia and France. But elsewhere, as in Afghanistan, they are cultivated to supply the illegal drug market; fields in that war-torn country produce five to six times the volume of the legal trade.


Facchini's research actually makes it possible to produce codeine and morphine in factory-like settings that could be easily regulated, contained and protected.


It was Facchini's work with the opium poppy that led to an even bigger research project. For the past three years he has co-led with Vince Martin, a microbiologist/chemical engineer at Concordia University in Montreal, a team of scientists at universities across Canada who are decoding and cataloguing the genetic material of 75 plants that have medicinal and other beneficial properties.


The $13 million project is funded mainly by Genome Canada, a federal government agency, and provincial counterparts in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.


"We are not just producing gene sequences, everybody is doing that now. We are actually cataloguing the functions of various enzymes in the plants," says Facchini.


This will enable scientists to engineer new combinations of genes and enzymes to produce a synthetic micro-organism. "If we can do it for morphine, we can do it for anything," adds Facchini, who has called Calgary home since 1995.


Needless to say, there is a lot of controversy about synthetic biology. Where does it stop? If it can be used to produce beneficial products, couldn't it also be used to produce harmful ones such as deadly bacteria or viruses?


Facchini is well aware of all the ethical dilemmas presented by synthetic biology since his current research project includes exploration of those issues.


But he's also adamant that Canadians need to move quickly to patent the intellectual property that is being funded by taxpayers and developed here by scientists such as himself.


"Canada should take a lead in producing synthetic codeine and morphine since per capita Canadians are amongst the world's leading consumers of codeine both as prescription and over-the-counter medications," says Facchini, a Canada Research Chair in Plant Metabolic Processes Biotechnology.


"But we import it all," he continues with more than a hint of frustration in his voice, "when we could actually be producing it ourselves. Why is it that we are so eager to sell our raw resources and yet when we have an opportunity to manufacture an important medication we pass it by? We could create new jobs, a new manufacturing base."


The missing element is money. Universities don't have enough of it and the pockets of Canadian investors aren't as deep as those in the U.S where synthetic biology is already being used for commercial purposes.


The Gates Foundation put up $42 million to research the production of semi-synthetic artemesinin, an anti-malarial compound produced by the wormwood plant.


"The momentum is here," says Facchini, as he emphatically taps the cluttered table. "We're good at's important for Canada to be seen as a leader."


If we are willing to enter a brave new world, Peter Facchini is more than ready to take us there.


Gillian Steward, Toronto Star, March 12, 2012


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Enriched Fruits Possible With Infusion Technique, Study Shows 


Enhancing disease-preventive and other nutraceutical qualities of fresh fruits can provide extra health benefits, says a recently published study co-authored by Prof. Gopinadhan Paliyath in the University of Guelph's Department of Plant Agriculture.


"People are faced with a dilemma," said Paliyath. "We'd like to be able to eat quality fresh fruit like blueberries and cherries even in winter, but it isn't always available and it can be pricey. We may look to the dried fruit in our breakfast cereal and our granola bars for a boost of fruit flavour and vitamins.


Unfortunately, the flavour, texture and, importantly, the nutritional value may be disappointing."


His research team developed a technique to infuse fruits with combined water, sucrose, soy lecithin as a stabilizing agent, and a natural prebiotic fibre produced from cane sugar. The fibre is found in a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, but only in trace amounts.


"One reason for using prebiotic fibre is because prebiotics and probiotics work together to support the immune system," Paliyath explained. "Prebiotics are like food for probiotics, which are the 'friendly' bacteria normally living in the digestive tract. They are necessary for healthy digestion and promote nutrient absorption. Also, this prebiotic fibre is only 30 per cent as sweet as sucrose and low in calories."


The study showed that the treated fruit was less susceptible to mould growth and offered not only good mouth feel and flavour but also potentially increased health benefits.


"Fresh fruit could be enriched with specific nutritional components - provitamins such as carotene, phospholipids such as soy lecithin, and prebiotics to support a healthy gut," he said.


"Our infusion technology may help the food processing industries come out with a variety of fruit products that consumers could enjoy all year long," Paliyath said.


The researchers modified the osmotic method of drying fruits, which uses large amounts of sucrose, partially replacing the sucrose with the prebiotic fibre.


Sliced mangoes were most successfully infused. Cherries and blueberries proved more challenging because of their thick skins.


"Although the technology needs refinement, our technique is effective," Paliyath said. "When we infused cherries with a combination of wine polyphenols, lecithin, sucrose and the prebiotic fibre, the cherries actually became more flavourful."


The study is available online.


Paliyath plans to look at bright yellow sea buckthorn berries, which contain healthy nutraceuticals including omega-3 fatty acids.


Sea buckthorn seed oil has been discussed on the popular Dr. Oz Show. Juice from sea buckthorn berries is a well-known drink in parts of Asia and Europe.


"A single yellow sea buckthorn berry - the size of a small blueberry - has much more vitamin C than similar-sized fruits," Paliyath said. "It is sometimes referred to as the 'holy fruit of the Himalayas,' but it does grow here in Ontario. I think it would be worthwhile to enhance even this 'super-food' if it can help with disease prevention. Fruit is a key food group in a healthy diet."


University of Guelph News, March 12, 2012


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Monsanto Plans Tests of First Approved Corn Engineered to Deal with Drought 


Seed giant Monsanto Co. plans large-scale tests this year of the first government-approved biotech crop developed to deal with drought.


The new corn is being introduced as much of the U.S. remains abnormally dry and areas in the South and Southwest still face severe drought. Monsanto says the corn won't be a panacea for drought-stricken farmers but when combined with improved agricultural practices could help those in areas like the western Great Plains, where production without irrigation can be half as much as the national average.


The St. Louis-based company plans on-farm trials from South Dakota to Texas to quantify how well the corn works before releasing it commercially next year. Farmers in areas like western Kansas, which gets about half of the annual rainfall enjoyed by the eastern half of the state, are eager for the results.


"We're not in a very wet country here," said Harvey Heier, who has a farm near Grainfield, Kan. "It would be a big plus ... if it works."


Monsanto developed the corn with a gene taken from a bacterium commonly found in soil and vegetation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided against regulating it late last year, essentially approving it for commercial release. The decision is notable because it marks the first time USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved a product that has been genetically engineered to resist drought, rather than a pest or herbicide.


The agency says the corn is safe. Its analysis concluded the corn wasn't likely to harm the environment, people or animals and wouldn't boost corn production at the expense of grasslands and forest, said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator of APHIS's Biotechnology Regulatory Services.


Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program, said there's no reason to think the corn might be unsafe, though he and Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety say they wish there were more stringent testing and regulation of biotech crops.


USDA said last November that it plans to speed up regulatory reviews of biotech crops even more by streamlining the process, cutting in half the average approval time of three years. New guidelines could be published as early as this month.


Officials in the corn and ethanol industries say drought-tolerant corn could help meet the dramatic increase in demand for the grain used to make both food and fuel. Public consumption of corn-based products has more than doubled in the past 30 years, while the ethanol industry's demand for corn has doubled in the past five years, according to the USDA and Renewable Fuels Association.


It's not clear whether Monsanto's corn will actually boost production. The APHIS analysis prepared by Gregoire says field trial results showing more corn grown per acre under dry conditions aren't statistically significant but suggest the corn would do well in drought.


But the analysis also notes some conventionally bred varieties have drought tolerance and "to some extent, all U.S. corn varieties have been becoming more drought resistant over time."


Companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, have introduced drought-tolerant corn developed through conventional and molecular breeding. No company but Monsanto has petitioned APHIS for approval of a genetically engineered drought-tolerant trait, spokesman R. Andre Bell said.


While Monsanto touts the variety developed with German chemical company BASF as "the industry's first biotech drought solution," it's also been careful to limit expectations. The corn, which is being marketed under the name DroughtGard, is aimed at areas of the U.S. suffering moderate drought and is not currently part of the company's effort to help bring drought-tolerant corn to parched areas of Africa.


"This isn't a product that we're expecting to grow in the desert," Monsanto spokeswoman Danielle Stuart said. "You still need water and nutrients."


Mark Edge, Monsanto's drought marketing specialist, cautioned that while field trials were promising, they were limited. This year's tests, involving as many as 250 growers in six states, should provide better information about where and how well it works, he said.


"We don't see this as an end; this is a beginning to understanding how we can use the tools of biotechnology to interact in this complex arena of yield and (drought) stress," Edge said. "We expect that our pipeline will have many more (products) that we bring forward."


Gurian-Sherman predicted the corn will be "a Band-Aid, not a cure," providing "modest" benefit on only about one-fifth of the U.S. corn acres that are in areas of frequent drought.


"I don't think it's useless technology ... (but) we shouldn't have an expectation that this technology is going to solve our drought problems in the foreseeable future - at least severe droughts," he said.


Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press, March 13, 2012


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Neglecting Prominent Role of Women in Agriculture Hindering Solutions to Food Security


As developing countries battle multiple threats to food security - soaring prices, crop-crushing weather extremes and dramatic population growth - agriculture experts gathering in New Delhi this week warn that efforts to boost food production and reduce malnutrition risk failure if they continue to ignore the important role of women farmers around the world.


"The global sidelining of women farmers puts our food security at great risk," said Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary for the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), one of the sponsors of the first-ever Global Conference on Women in Agriculture, which is part of GFAR's Gender in Agriculture Partnership program. "In holding this meeting, we are spurring collective action from all quarters of the agriculture field, whether from farmers' groups or national agricultural research systems, universities or NGOs, to empower women farmers."


Other organizing partners include the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). They have assembled a wide range of agriculture experts including World Food Prize laureates, government ministers, farmers, agricultural researchers, gender specialists and community development organizations who will meet March 13 through 15 to focus on the importance of women to food security.


They are driven by the fact that women represent on average 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries but must contend daily with policies and practices that severely restrain their food production potential. Women face widespread restrictions on their ability to buy, sell or inherit land, open a savings account, borrow money or sell their crops at market. They also are more likely than men to lack access to rudimentary basics of farming such as fertilizers, water, tillers, transportation, improved crop and animal varieties, and extension services.


As a result, female farmers produce a lower yield on their crops than male farmers by an average of 25 percent. A recent report commissioned by GFAR and recently published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) even shows differences in yield in the same household. A study in Burkina Faso, for example, links gender-based restrictions on access to labor and basic farm inputs with a 30 percent reduction in yields on plots farmed by women versus those maintained by men.


Meanwhile, as of 2010, there were some 925 million undernourished people, mostly in the developing world. And experts say that number could easily grow as record-setting food prices, a series of weather extremes induced by climate change, and a world population that is on track to reach 9 billion by 2050, collude to create unprecedented challenges for global food security.


"We see this conference as a way to unlock the potential of women from Africa to South Asia to Latin America to address the world's food needs," said Uma Lele, an independent scholar and a former Economic and Policy Advisor at the World Bank who will be presenting at the conference.


Read more here.


GFAR, March 12, 2012


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Strengthening the Bond Between Policy and Science 


One only has to be reminded of the BSE crisis and the MMR vaccine scare to recognise the importance of having policy informed by the best available science. Now, a collaboration of over fifty academics and policy makers from around the world have come together to agree a new research agenda on the role of science in public policy. The findings appear Friday, 09 March in PLoS ONE, a leading interdisciplinary open-access journal.


The importance of using science for public policy has long been recognised, but recent years have seen a growing debate over how this is best achieved. 'Evidence-based policy' has become the desired norm, and this has led to a greater embedding of scientists alongside other specialists in public policy. In many governments, scientists are engaged at a senior level. For example, in the UK, in addition to the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, all government departments have a dedicated Chief Scientific Adviser post.


In spite of their acknowledged importance, however, relations between science and policy are sometimes troubled, and periodically erupt into controversy. Prominent examples include the acrimonious debate over scientific understandings of climate change and the continuing disputes over the use of genetically modified crops and foods.


The aim of this project was to identify key questions which, if addressed through focused research, could both address important theoretical challenges and also improve the mutual understanding and effectiveness of those who work at the interface of science and policy.


To address these issues, Professor William Sutherland, from the University of Cambridge, working with the University's Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), convened a unique workshop which brought together 52 leading scientists and policy makers to agree a new research agenda. They came from a wide range of academic disciplines (including the physical, biological, environmental, medical, and social sciences) as well as government, NGOs and industry. Initially, each participant was invited to produce a list of questions; through a process of voting, deliberation and further voting, the initial list was distilled into a final set of 40 questions.


Explaining the significance of the research, Professor Sutherland said: "When public policy is supported by scientifically-sound evidence, it is to the benefit of all of society. In order to strengthen the relationship between science and policy, we have, for the first time, compiled a clear set of research questions on scientific advice to governments."


The final questions include an examination of how the design of scientific advisory systems affects policy outcomes (Q18), whether making science advice more transparent has improved its quality (Q35) and how to ensure early identification of policy issues that require scientific advice (Q10).


Others, for example, include:

What is the effectiveness of different techniques for anticipating future policy issues requiring science input? (Q17)

How and why does the role of scientific advice in policy-making differ among local, regional, national and international levels of governance? (Q19)

How do policy makers understand and respond to scientific uncertainties and expert disagreements? (Q29)


Dr Miles Parker, Director of Science, Defra, said: "As a science adviser to government, I want to know 'what works' when it comes to ensuring that sound evidence informs public policy. This collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to devising a research agenda was very worthwhile. Understanding the relationship between science and policy is an area of research that needs more attention."


Dr Robert Doubleday, Head of Research, Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge, said: "For the first time scientific advisers, policy makers, and academics who study science policy have come together through a structured process to agree a common research agenda. This is a critically important step as too often in the past there has been a serious disconnect between the theory and practice of science policy. This paper will help overcome this gap. At CSaP we are committed to assessing progress made towards addressing these questions."


University of Cambridge, March 9, 2012


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Experts Develop Salt-Tolerant, High-Yield Wheat 


Scientists in Australia have crossed a popular, commercial variety of wheat with an ancient species, producing a hardy, high-yielding plant that is tolerant of salty soil.


The researchers, who published their work on Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology, hope the new strain will help address food shortages in arid and semi-arid places where farmers struggle with high salinity in the soil.


"This is first time that ... a genetic variation that has been lost in plants through domestication has been reclaimed from a wild relative and put back into the plant," said lead researcher Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture.


The researchers used a gene believed to be responsible for controlling the salt content in plants and that was isolated more than 10 years ago from an ancient wheat variety.


The gene makes a protein that is present in the roots of wheat and it helps block salt from travelling up the plant, Gilliham said in a telephone interview. Salt lowers yields and eventually kills the plant.


"When plants grow in salty conditions, the enzymes in the plants don't work very well anymore," Gilliham said.


"We crossed the gene into modern, commercially-grown wheat. It confers salinity tolerance by withdrawing the salts from the xylem, retaining them in the roots and stopping them getting up the shoots where the salt damages the plant and stops it from photosynthesizing," he explained.


The researchers grew the new, improved wheat variety in soil with high salt content and found that it produced yields up to 25 percent more than strains without the ancient gene.


"People will see how it works ... maybe in 5 years it will benefit other varieties of wheat," Gilliham said.

He said farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, the United States and Russia may also benefit from the modified wheat.


Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters, March 12, 2012


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


This week the Committee met for hearings on Expenditure Plans for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for fiscal year 2011-12, as well as Main Estimates for 2012-13.  Appearing were the Minister, Gerry Ritz, Deputy Minister, John Knubley and George Da Pont, President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Other departmental officials also appeared.  


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Coming Events


International Fascination of Plants Day, May 18, 2012


Canadian Society of Soil Science and Association Québécoise de Spécialistes en Sciences du Sol Joint Conference, Lac Beauport, Quebec, June 3-7, 2012


3rd International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare, Saskatoon, June 5-7, 2012

Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012


Joint Annual Meeting of AIC, the Canadian Society of Agronomy, Certified Crop Advisors and Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, Saskatoon, July 16-19, 2012

5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012 


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Frances Rodenburg, Editor