Research and innovation keeps our farmers growing

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

As Ontario embarks on spring planting, it’s a great time to talk about empowering the province’s farmers for a competitive and sustainable future. Bill 155, The Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario Act, 2023, is the vehicle for making improvements. The bill received all-party support and passed third reading on April 11. Clearly, the benefits of modernizing ARIO were evident to all members of the Legislative Assembly.

It’s no secret we are all facing big challenges including food security. Our farmers continue to be a source of the solution along with research and innovation; for these reasons I voted to pass Bill 155.

A little background on ARIO. It was created in 1962 and the ARIO Act last had major amendments in the 1990s. Straight from the horse’s mouth, ARIO is a corporate body that reports directly to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It advocates areas of research for the betterment of agriculture, veterinary medicine, and consumer studies. It’s also mandated to increase the production, efficiency, and marketing of agricultural products by stimulating interest in research. ARIO’s mission statement reads that as appointed representatives of the agri-food sector, (they) are dedicated to the strategic use of science and innovation to enhance the sustainability and profitability of Ontario’s agri-food and rural sectors.

Okay, now that we know the good work of ARIO, it still required some tweaks to keep it relevant as agriculture and the world changes across the board, from growing, harvesting, and technology to retail sales.

The amendments to the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario Act change the name of ARIO and the Act to better reflect its modern approach, and it will now be known as Agricultural Research and Innovation Ontario. The mandate will be updated to clarify its Crown Agency Status and powers, particularly oversight of financial matters and property.

So, what this means when the seed hits the soil (rather than when the rubber hits the road), is ARIO should benefit agricultural stakeholders by better reflecting the current agri-food research and the innovation needs of the agri-food sector. ARIO should be one of the ways Ontario can stay on the cutting edge of best production practices and implement new technologies and innovative techniques that will increase the competitiveness and productivity of the sector.

Finally, a bill built on stakeholder input drawn from an extensive consultation process with industry stakeholders, academia, and Indigenous communities.

My only concern that went unaddressed on April 10 by Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson, related to how the bill will ensure farmers are recognized and included as key participants, not only as stakeholders sitting on the sidelines. I asked her during debate, but she only raved about her parliamentary assistants. Despite her channel changing tactic, I remain hopeful and optimistic that farmers will be key influencers. If we witness the opposite, I will be the first to champion change.

I’ll close with a quote I like from Lorne Hepworth, the Chair of ARIO, who last year stated that “…for more than 60 years, the ARIO Act has served Ontario’s agri-food industry well by supporting research that directly benefits farmers. The proposed changes will strengthen the ARIO’s decades of work by expanding the scope of research to be more relevant today and serve the future needs of our agriculture and food industry.”

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk