CDC pulses now royalty free to Saskatchewan growers only

A licensing deal means growers outside the province will pay certified seed royalties

Pulse growers in Alberta and Manitoba will no longer have royalty-free access to Crop Development Centre varieties.

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers has licensed the distribution rights for select CDC varieties in provinces outside Saskatchewan to SeCan and SeedNet for 10 years.

Saskatchewan farmers spend about $4 million a year on the CDC’s breeding program. Growers from Alberta and Manitoba made much smaller contributions to the program, amounting to less than $100,000 each.

Those contributions allowed SPG to commercialize CDC varieties royalty free in the neighbouring provinces. However, Alberta pulled its funding in 2016 when the agreement came up for renewal.

SPG executive director Carl Potts received a lot of calls from seed growers and commercial farmers in Alberta who didn’t want to lose access to CDC varieties.

SPG considered a lot of options but settled on licensing the distribution rights to seed companies operating in the two provinces.

The organization ran a request for proposals in the summer and selected SeCan and SeedNet as its commercialization partners.

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“SeCan members have grown CDC varieties in the past, and we felt it was critical to ensure that our members continued to have access to the varieties,” Todd Hyra, western Canadian business manager for SeCan, said in a news release.

Elizabeth Tokariuk, general manger for SeedNet, said in the same release: “SeedNet wants to provide growers with the best genetics to satisfy the increasing demand for pulse crops in Alberta, Manitoba and the B.C. Peace.”

Potts doesn’t believe CDC varieties will lose market share outside Saskatchewan now that growers will be paying certified seed royalties.

He said CDC varieties account for 90 percent of Alberta’s pea acres because they are strong performers in terms of yield and agronomy.

“I’m not expecting a lot of changes or reduction in market share because of this,” said Potts.

D’Arcy Hilgartner, chair of Alberta Pulse Growers, said the board made the decision to stop funding the CDC’s variety release program to level the playing field with other breeding programs.

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The board decided to focus on the pre-commercialization stage of breeding, such as germplasm testing and variety trials, and to let the market decide what varieties to commercialize.

It also wanted more of an Alberta focus on its research and development expenditures.

“We tried to look at encouraging more varieties to come to market, maybe some more suitable and related to Alberta growing conditions as opposed to maybe just the Saskatchewan growing conditions,” said Hilgartner.

He said the new arrangement is similar to what growers see with other crops, and he believes the relationship with SeCan and SeedNet will result in better promotion and marketing of pulse varieties than when they were distributed directly to the province’s seed growers.

Hilgartner agreed CDC varieties will continue to thrive in Alberta but now they will be on a level playing field with other varieties such as Agriculture Canada’s Lacombe peas.

Potts said the licensing agreement could be a significant new source of revenue for SPG, depending on market share and how quickly new varieties are adopted.

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The new distribution arrangement created challenges with issues such as interprovincial trade rules because the varieties are released royalty-free in one province but not in the others. However, those challenges have been overcome.