NFU vows to fight seed royalty proposal

The National Farmers Union is not happy with what it considers an unacceptable level of corporate influence in the Canadian seed sector.

The organization last week voiced its strong opposition to the concept of charging royalties on farm saved seed.

“This is absolutely and utterly wrong,” said Manitoba farmer Ian Robson, who spoke at an NFU news conference in Saskatoon Nov. 21.

“This is a money grab, directly from us as farmers…. This should be (considered) a real insult to all farmers.”

The federal government is in the middle of a nation-wide consultation process seeking feedback on a proposal that aims to generate more revenue from the sale and use of certified seed.

A coalition of seed industry groups known as Seed Synergy says creating additional value in the Canadian seed sector will lead to greater levels of investment in seed breeding programs.

The result will be the creation and commercialization of innovative new seed products that boost crop yields and contribute to more profitable Canadian farms.

Partners in the Seed Synergy initiative, including the Canadian Seed Growers Association and the Canadian Seed Trade Association, have indicated that they would prefer a system where commercial grain farmers are charged a royalty each time they use farm-saved seed to plant a crop.

Both Robson and former NFU president Terry Boehm called the proposal an infringement on farmers’ ancient right to harvest and replant seeds.

Robson also suggested that the federal consultation process currently underway is a sham, designed to “herd” Canadian farmers into supporting the seed royalty proposal.

“It’s a consultation that’s fake, if you want to put it that way,” said Robson, Manitoba regional co-ordinator for the NFU, one of Canada’s oldest farm lobby groups.

“It’s an outcome that’s decided already.”

NFU officials said it is impossible to determine how much revenue would be generated from a farm-saved seed royalty because details of royalty rates and collection mechanisms have not been finalized.

Boehm acknowledged that the proposed royalty scheme would not apply to older cereal varieties that were registered in Canada before February 2015.

But he warned that over time, farmers will have access to fewer and fewer royalty-free varieties as older, royalty-exempt varieties are de-registered.

The NFU encouraged farmers to oppose the Seed Synergy proposal and preserve a public breeding system where government-hired plant breeders develop new cultivars that can be purchased and re-used on a royalty-free basis.

Some of Canada’s earliest plant breeders, including Marquis wheat developer Seager Wheeler, were farmers who selected plants on their farms and developed new wheat lines for the benefit of all farmers, the organization added.

“Our pioneers set up a tremendous system in this country that we need to be proud of,” Robson said.

“We’re not going to stand by and have it chiselled apart.”

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