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7-Business: Saskatoon (Canad) slows ag biotech investment



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TITLE:  Sask. slows ag biotech investment
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Sean Pratt
        http://www.producer.com/articles/20030424/news/20030424news02.html
DATE:   Apr 24, 2003

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Sask. slows ag biotech investment 

Provincial government funding is waning for Saskatchewan's agriculture
biotechnology sector.

Four years ago the province contributed $5.4 million to Saskatchewan's
top four biotechnology firms. Last year it spent a little over half that
amount.

It's uncertain what this year's total will be, but it is unlikely that it
will rise from the $2.9 million doled out in 2002-03. The province
slashed its overall agriculture research and technology spending by $2
million in the new budget announced March 28.

That means Ag-West Biotech Inc., the National Research Council's Plant
Biotechnology Institute, Agriculture Canada's Saskatoon Research Centre
and the University of Saskatchewan will have to look elsewhere for
biotechnology research funds.

Saskatchewan Agriculture's director of research said the decline in
support is due to the "winding down" of the Agri-Food Innovation Fund, a
federal-Saskatchewan fund that expired March 31, 2003.

"There's no AFIF2," said Abdul Jalil.

Wilf Keller, research director at the Plant Biotechnology Institute, said
AFIF was a good source of funding. But over the last four years the
province's contribution to the institute through that program and the
Agriculture Development Fund has dropped to $300,000 from $1.5 million.

That will have a direct impact on the types of activities undertaken at
the institute.

"There would be some priority areas that we have on the go, such as
pulses, that we could have beefed up a bit more with more provincial
input," said Keller.

He understands the National Research Council is a federal government
agency and shouldn't expect to be a major recipient of provincial
funding, but thinks there needs to be a higher level of commitment.

The province tends to spend its money on short-term applied research
projects like disease management rather than the long-term work that goes
on at the institute.

"We can help the producer 10 years down the road by having bigger lentil
seeds or a higher proportion of good quality protein in them," said Keller.

He also thinks there is an understandable tendency to back away from
research involving genetically modified organisms, which could be
influencing the province's investment decisions.

"Products produced through biotech may not get into the global market as
quickly as we thought they would 15 years ago," said Keller.

Ag-West Biotech president Peter McCann hasn't noticed a decline in
provincial commitment. That's because Ag-West has a separate, long-
standing funding agreement with the province for a perennial grant of
$1.1 million that hasn't been affected by the disappearance of AFIF.

"We've been able to manage," said McCann.

He also points out that what other biotech institutions have lost in
provincial government funding has been made up through other sources.

"There has been a very large amount of additional research money flowing
into the ag biotech community," said McCann.

Over $120 million has been invested in Saskatchewan agricultural genomics
in the past few years through organizations like Genome Canada Inc.

Keller said that money is targeted toward the broad long-term study of
genes and their function, which is important work.

But there is also a need to fund projects that fit somewhere in the
spectrum between short-term applied research and long-term knowledge
gathering. That's where the province should step in, said Keller.