As the Interim Board of Directors of Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) rushes into March like a lion, I would like to take pause and reflect on all that this young, vibrant organization has accomplished in its first year in business. It is a bittersweet time as we, the interim Board, hand RDAR over to a new Board, which will be announced at our March 9 Inaugural Members’ Meeting.
RDAR came together – virtually – at the start of a pandemic. Its founders came together through video conference calls and socially-distanced meetings during the peak of COVID-19 to build a tangible organization that would meet Alberta’s producers and the research community’s needs.
For many Albertans, 2020 was a year like none other. This past year, Alberta’s agriculture research landscape was shifted by creating RDAR, a new organization that would deliberately bring producers, academics, and agriculture industry leaders together to determine Alberta’s agriculture research priorities. At RDAR, we have intentionally brought diverse voices of agriculture to the table because we know that collaboration is vital, and we must work together to advance our industry.
RDAR is a not-for-profit corporation, arms-length from government, mandated to “support results driven research priorities and programs that will increase competitiveness and profitability of Alberta’s agriculture industry.” It does this with $37 million dedicated annually to funding agriculture research in all sectors of Alberta’s industry.
Early last year, Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen led the way for a bold entity to drive a new direction in agriculture research. In March of 2020, an interim Board of Directors, that I had the privilege to lead, was appointed to guide the new organization.
Early on, RDAR decided it would communicate early and often with its producer community. Staying connected to its producer-led roots, RDAR’s interim Board Directors were selected from across the province, representing crop, livestock, and research organizations.
It was a tremendous experience to have worked shoulder to shoulder with such a determined and experienced interim Board of Directors. Over 11 months, our Board met 20(!) times and invested some 2,300 hours of effort laying the foundations for our organization. Looking back on all that we have accomplished in this short year makes me feel honored and excited when I anticipate the heights of RDAR’s accomplishments in years to come.
At the end of March, RDAR will be 1-year-old. It is a milestone that enables us to look back at the hard work that has laid the groundwork for our successes. Now let’s take a look back at the milestones that we achieved together:
- April and May: RDAR holds sessions to inform industry partners about its purpose and plans to become established.
- June 2020: RDAR consults with agriculture partners to design RDAR’s future governance structure, focus and success measures.
- August 2020: RDAR compiles initial research priorities in conjunction with our Advisory Committee Members’ priorities (Marketing Boards and Commissions; Associations, Post-Secondary Institutions; and Applied Research Associations). This Committee, representing producer needs, helped determine our research priorities.
- October 2020: RDAR announces its initial research priorities and launches its inaugural targeted call for research proposals, kickstarting a new era of ag research funding in Alberta. That call resulted in 117 proposals requesting over $33 million in funding.
- October 2020: RDAR establishes a permanent home at Edmonton Research Park, co-located with the Canadian Agri-food Automation and Innovation Network (CAAIN) and Alberta Innovates – two of RDAR’s partners. This location is in the heart of Edmonton’s research-incubator hub.
- November 2020: 11 staff are hired; six focused on research and grant management; two in financial management, one in communications management, one in overall operations management, one executive support.
- January 2020: RDAR leads the review of over 100+ results-driven research applications and starts to approve high-impact research proposals that will push the boundaries of Alberta agriculture potential. Engaging with review panels, staffed with experts across our industry, RDAR uses a merit-based scorecard to approve 58 projects at a total of $16 million.
- February 2021: RDAR partners with the Agriculture Funding Consortium to help administer their 2021/22 Call. Co-funding projects with the AFC enabled more projects to be accomplished and actualized.
- February 2021: RDAR hires industry leader, Dr. Mark Redmond as its CEO and a new Board of Directors is elected by RDAR’s Members.
- March 2021: RDAR celebrates one year of leading producer-led research in Alberta.
Throughout these milestones, the Board and staff wrestled with many policy issues, drafted by-laws, set operating budgets that would keep our funds focused on research, developed our brand, voice and culture, and refined our operating model. Through all discussions, I’m very proud to say how committed all were to represent all producer and industry interests. When at the table, RDAR’s success is our sole focus.
It is with great pride that I look back on this list of RDAR’s achievements. I am humbled to have served with my Board colleagues, who ensured that producers’ voices were always at the front of our deliberations. I am confident that RDAR will continue to work to ensure producers’ voices are heard and remain the driving force in determining Alberta’s agricultural research priorities.
Let’s continue to work together to bring practical innovations and discoveries to those working in the barn and on the field. Agriculture is a critical industry for our province and our nation. Producer-led research and collaboration will help our industry to remain competitive and increase its profitability.
Kind regards – and yours truly in accelerating agricultural innovation,