MCA-commissioned study highlights research capacity challenges in Manitoba

Agricultural research is fundamental to the continued productivity and sustainability of Manitoba farmers and supporting high-quality research is foundational to the mission and vision of Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA).

The research needs of farmers are unique, accounting for diverse geographic regions and crop types, and constantly evolving in response to consumer demand, climate and other factors. As a result, Manitoba’s research community must be well positioned to meet the current needs of farmers, while also anticipating the challenges they will face in the future.

We recently engaged Backswath Management to execute a study evaluating the existing crop research capacity in Manitoba. Most public and private research institutes contacted in the Backswath survey were interested in collaborating with MCA to meet farmer research objectives, but many cited barriers to initiating or expanding collaboration.

The study identified four main challenges facing research capacity in Manitoba:

Equipment was frequently cited as a limitation to meeting the research needs of Manitoba farmers. Increased demand on existing equipment and the need for new or specialized research equipment were emphasized in several survey responses. Barriers to addressing equipment challenges were often related to funding programs and reduction in funding at research institutions.

Infrastructure and access to land has created challenges for numerous private and public researchers in Manitoba. At public institutions, existing infrastructure is aging and not keeping pace with current demand or technological advancements. Meanwhile, the creation of new infrastructure has been slow, or non-existent. Demand for currently owned land at research stations is high and renting land from farmers can be challenging.

Program funding was strongly correlated to existing limitations of equipment, infrastructure and land access. Many funding programs limit the ability to offset the cost of capital expenses and do not allow expenditures related to ongoing maintenance and repair. Current funding structures were also noted as limiting the capacity to address certain research questions. Many funding programs are limited to a three- to five-year research project. As research questions become more complex, the need to fund longer-term studies is critical to adequately address these challenges. Funding programs have also become increasingly time consuming, placing strain on researchers and their staff to undertake administrative responsibilities, which take up time that could otherwise be spent conducting research.

Human resources are a significant challenge to research capacity. Recruitment and retention, as well as identifying skilled workers, were noted as limitations for both private and public research institutions. Competition from private industry outside the research field and adequate compensation were noted as barriers to addressing human resource related challenges in research.

We will carry out additional in-depth discussions with both private and public partners to determine the next steps to increase research capacity in Manitoba. We recognize the importance of fostering strong relationships between industry and research. By pursuing direct engagement with the Manitoba research community, we hope to improve communication, provide context for Manitoba farmers’ research objectives and identify opportunities to collaborate with new and existing members of Manitoba’s research landscape.