AAFC making gains as it forges ahead with re-organization of S&T activities

Guest Contributor
February 18, 2003

Federal agricultural research is pushing ahead with a dramatic transformation, adapting its S&T activities to a business line model that is re-energizing personnel after years of cutbacks. The re-organization of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) began with the arrival two years ago of a new DM (Samy Watson), and has accelerated since the release of the new Agricultural Policy Framework (APF).

AAFC is ahead of the pack among Ottawa’s science-based departments in embracing many of the proposed initiatives that have sprung up from the ongoing effort to increase federal science capacity and attract new funding. The department has grouped its network of 19 research centres located across the country into four national science programs — environmental health, sustainable production systems, bioproducts and bioprocesses and food safety and quality.

The programs have been further segmented in 17 themes and 90 national projects (down from 400). But it’s how the projects are funded and managed that reflects the real innovation that is occurring. The regional management approach of the past has given way to true horizontality, away from commodity thrusts to issues relating to the four central themes. Management has shifted from the centres to the 17 themes and the projects are now self-directed.

Research Resources

($ figures in millions)
Research centres across Canada19
Professionals, including scientists619
Research projects345
Total budget$252
Matching Investment Initiative funding$27

Source: AAFC

“It’s all consistent with the APF with science supporting both the policy and delivery side,” says Dr Gordon Dorrell, AAFC’s acting ADM. “We’ve put the right disciplines and elements together with the right programs.”

“It is important to foster a business environment that is conducive to research and development, and that encourages public and private funding of agricultural research and the early application of research results. This could be achieved through appropriate investments and close collaboration among all players in the innovation chain.”

— Agricultural Policy Framework

The shift towards clear, identifiable business lines has led to earlier engagement with the private sector, or other entities capable of taking S&T to the marketplace or introducing it into practice. Technologies that were once developed in isolation at AAFC’s research centres are now being bundled, and are often carried forward in collaboration to ensure coordinated and targeted delivery. The highly regarded Matching Investment Initiative (MII) began the process of leading the department into greater collaboration. Now research teams are being created across the department centres, independent of geography.

AAFC’s S&T activities are directly linked to three of the five elements spelled out in the APF — environment, food safety and quality (including international) and innovation and renewal. These areas are now governed by a board of directors and cover everything from policy to research. More importantly, beginning April 1/03, budgetary responsibility also shifts to the boards and away from the ADM level. “The boards of directors will make decisions as to what areas are to be funded and at what level. We will then move the money as quickly as possible to the various teams and amalgamated studies led by the scientists,” says Dorrell. “The integrated science teams will be responsible for delivery and staying within budget — the how, when and where — and the team leaders will report to the boards.”

Dorrell, who has been with the department’s research branch for 39 years, says the changes have resulted in an unprecedented sense of collegiality.

Environmental health

Soil assessment, use & health

Water quality & quantity

Air quality


Nutrients & organic residues

Integrated pest management

Sustainable production systems

Cultivar & other genetic enhancement

Crop production systems

Livestock production systems

Animal behaviour and welfare

Bioproducts and bioprocesses

Specialty biobased products and processes

Bioenergy & biomass products & processes

Genomics & bioinformatics

Food safety and quality

Knowledge & tools for food safety & regulations

Meeting consumer preferences & nutritional needs

Improved and new products & processes

Source: AAFC

“It’s the first time in my career that there’s strong evidence of a coherent delivery program and activities.”

And for the first time since program review, AAFC scientists will have additional financial resources. The APF has injected approximately $150 million in new funding into the agricultural research. Most of the money will flow to AAFC, with smaller amounts going to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.

Dorrell says the new money will have a significant impact in the areas of health and safety and bioprocessing — the latter an area in which the department is placing considerable effort. Reallocation of funding will also free up money for use along new organizational lines and, as senior scientists retire, new disciplines will be introduced.

“This process will never end. Some will be comfortable with it and others won’t but it will continue to evolve,” he says. “Determining issues 10 years out will help in hiring. The mix of sciences is changing dramatically.”

While re-organization within AAFC and other departments continues apace, the challenge of encouraging inter-departmental collaboration has been slow. The so-called 5NR agreement between the five departments dealing with natural resources has not been renewed as officials search for a new model that will work. “It didn’t lead to the development of joint objective and delivery mechanisms. We haven’t found a powerful vehicle to bring this off yet,” says Dorrell.

One potential model is the Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear Research and Technology Initiative, the $170-million test pilot for the proposed Federal Innovation Networks of Excellence (FINE) program. Dorrell says that network had a clear cause and succeeded in bringing together a number groups where other attempts had failed.


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