Growers need practical wheat research model

Wheat may get its crown back.

The thesis underlying the recent Breadbasket Summit in Saskatoon was how to feed the Earth’s billions, but western Canadian wheat took most of the spotlight in the analysis of just how to do that.

Are more, better-yielding wheat crops our contribution to solving global hunger? If so, how do we pull that off? And can it be done profitably?

Stuart Garven of Garven & Associates presented one wheat development model that may hold promise. With Agriculture Canada moving out of variety finishing, not to mention many other research-related functions, a funding model must be found to pay for variety development.

Garven said producers need new genetics and development, and they want choice and competition in cereals.

The model must operate as a business, with company breeding programs and a producer-private-public partnership system co-existing, he said. This will increase investment into germplasm and allow for payment for technology.

Research would be funded through an end point royalty (EPR) system, similar to Australia’s; ergo, there would be no issues with farm saved seed. Garven said such a system would have lower administration costs, be more practical to implement than a seed royalty and be less offensive to farmers.

Agricultural economist Richard Gray from the University of Saskatchewan also argued for a partnership model and an EPR system. He said the status quo in research is not an option; there is too little investment, and producers, industry and governments must push for change. Fast.

You can see where this is going. Wheat producers are going to be carrying more of the research load. It’s hard to see where else the money will come from, since government funding is never guaranteed long term. As Garven noted, there’s not enough R&D money right now to engage industry in wheat development.

If producers do invest more, however, they must also have a heck of a lot of say in how this money is spent and who owns the technology.

As Brian Otto pointed out — although he was largely discussing barley, representing the Barley Council of Canada — funding models must be transparent, simple and accountable. He’s right. Once we’ve worked that out, we can turn to the work of feeding the billions.

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