Cereal research needs producers

Wheat and barley | Farmers curious about 
what they get for their check-off dollars

Farmers’ last best chance to get a stake in a big crop exists right now, says a leading young Manitoba farmer.

But that means wheat and barley commissions are going to have to prove their worth, and farmers are going to need to become involved.

“This is an opportunity to keep ownership on one of the only crops left that we have,” Ste. Rose farmer Rob Brunel said during the Keystone Agricultural Producers annual meeting.

“It’s time to really own up to that and look at participating actively and providing some input so that these organizations can better represent us.”

One of the complications when CWB’s monopoly was eliminated was that it ended the board’s role in helping fund and focus research on former board grains. That role is being taken over by wheat and barley organizations that are slowly forming on the Prairies. 

The organizations will be funded by check-off dollars, and a number of farmers at KAP said they hoped the money would buy farmers a piece of the wheat and barley breeding business.

Many feel private, non-farmer interests have taken over ownership of most crops, including those developed by university researchers.

“Do you ever see the day that farmers ever really own the research?” farmer Wilf Harder asked Western Grains Research Foundation chair David Sefton.

Sefton said the WGRF hopes farmers can get a stake of some sort in farmer-funded crop development efforts, but it’s tricky. University research remains owned by the university, but benefits from commercialization are shared with farmers. 

However, it can be difficult finding private partners because wheat is tough to breed and many private companies need quick returns on their investments.

Brunel said farmers are frustrated with paying for research but seeing others receive most of the benefits.

“At what point are we going to stop funding research and selling it off and paying for it again and again and again,” said Brunel.

Sefton said the WGRF is keenly aware of those concerns and shares them.

“What we need to be good custodians of is your dollars, as a private farmer-investor, to ensure that we retain some ownership of that research,” said Sefton.