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Editorial: Billion-dollar buddies

The new growing season is just around the corner.

February 28, 2008  By Marg Land

Welcome to a new year. The new growing season is just around the corner.
Hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday season filled with enjoyable times involving family and friends.

Welcome to a new year. The new growing season is just around the corner.

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday season filled with enjoyable times involving family and friends. Sometimes, it takes the holidays to remind people how important these groups – family and friends – can be in one’s life. That’s
probably why the University of Guelph chose mid-December as the prime time to release a report examining the relationship the university shares with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), specifically the economic benefits.


The university and OMAFRA have been involved in a formal relationship since 1996. Under the plan, the university manages research and education programs, plus related facilities, while the pro-
vincial government provides $54 million in funding.

According to the report, completed by Deloitte and Touche, that partnership results in $1.15 billion in economic benefits to the province, about a $3 return for every $1 received.

“What an incredible return on an investment,” said Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph. “In the last 10 years, this partnership has pumped more than $10 billion back into the economy.”

The university and OMAFRA have been buddies for years, researching and innovating together since the 1930s, added Summerlee. In light of this, the economic payoff to the province could be even greater than what has been reported, he said.

During the study, Deloitte and Touche conducted interviews with 30 high-
profile stakeholders in the province’s agri-food industry, gathering feedback on the past performance of the agreement. The company also examined six case studies and the specific, significant activities and wide-ranging contributions they have made. The six case studies included:

• Omega-3 enriched eggs,
• The agricultural diploma, continuing education, and veterinary clinical
education programs,
•The Ridgetown campus and soy beans,
• The Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and Best Management Practices (BMPs) programs,
• Zoonotic disease, and
• Agricultural research and innovation.
The report quantified the economic impact of the OMAFRA/University of Guelph partnership in three key areas:
• Direct and indirect expenses,
• Associated spending, and
• Spin-off impacts.

From that analysis, the largest economic impact came from the spin-off activities – such as product innovation and commercialization – which were estimated to be worth about $929 million per year.

“(This is) a prime example of how universities and governments can work together to create capacity that has amazing economic benefits,” said Alan Wildeman, the University of Guelph’s vice president of research.

The report also stresses that not all of the benefits of the partnership could be quantified. “A traditional economic impact analysis cannot factor in all of the benefits that this agreement provides to the province,” the executive summary states. “The impact related to the avoidance or prevention of a significant (disease) outbreak cannot be effectively quantified for a traditional economic impact analysis and as such is not part of the benefits outlined.”

For growers, this report probably comes as no surprise. From research into new herbicides to plant breeding to developing new production practices, researchers with the University of Guelph and OMAFRA have been there to help farmers do it quicker, safer, and more economically. It would be hard to put a value on that assistance.

In relationships, it can be easy for one partner to take the other one for granted. Sometimes, reminders are needed. This one speaks loud and clear.

The full report can be viewed at:

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