Wheat research in Canada is lagging because public and corporate funding is inadequate and producers have not yet accepted their funding responsibility, says a prominent University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist.
Agricultural economics professor Murray Fulton told a Jan. 25 Canadian Agricultural Economics Society meeting in Ottawa that Canada’s investment in wheat variety research is falling behind the world.
The result could be a decline in competitiveness in what has been one of Canada’s primary agricultural exports over the past century.
Corn, soybean and canola sectors that have a form of patent protection for genetically modified varieties are attracting the research dollars now and yield increases or varietal im-provements are following.
Fulton told the meeting that re-searchers have concluded more federal research funding is not a viable solution.
“Large allotments of public funding is off the table (as an option),” he said.
One of the alternatives is to simply turn research over to the grain companies and strengthen their intellectual property rights over new varieties to give them returns on investment.
The other option, said Fulton, is that producers and companies form partnerships and producers pay a mandatory check-off on sales and convince governments to allow end-point royalties at point of sale.
It would challenge the existing farmer right to save seed for next year’s seeding without paying for investment in new varieties, and would mirror a research model working in Australia.
Fulton said the alternative is a steady decline in Canada’s wheat competitiveness.
“It is the only option that is viable.”
He said government has a role to play in making the case to farmers that they need to pay more for their industry to remain competitive.
“A game changer is needed in the wheat industry,” he said.
Without a change in funding rules “wheat will continue its downward slide.”