Alta. ag minister cool on seed royalties

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier says he has reservations about a proposal that could see royalties collected on farm-saved seed.

Carlier said farmers have a right to be concerned about the proposal, which is currently the subject of consultations by Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“I don’t represent Monsanto and I don’t represent Bayer Crop Science. I represent the farmers of Alberta, so our position is going to be what is best for the farmers of Alberta,” he said.

“Research is important and I’m a big advocate of research, but I’m unclear why multibillion-dollar international companies need money from our farmers for their research when they are already extremely profitable companies.”

The royalty scheme, which was proposed late last year, could see growers pay end-point royalties when they deliver and sell grain or through the form of signed contracts, paying an ongoing and annual royalty to plant breeders for the use of farm-saved seed.

Agriculture Canada officials have said the royalties could help bolster the profitability and competitiveness of Canadian wheat because more funds would go into breeding, but farmers remain skeptical.

Many producers worry the proposal would cause wheat breeding to turn into the canola industry, where only major companies control a handful of varieties.

As well, they are worried varieties could be de-registered, essentially forcing them to buy ones that would require them to pay royalties.

Agriculture Canada has said wheat wouldn’t follow the canola example because the department would still play a large role in research and that de-registration is unlikely.

However, Carlier isn’t convinced collecting royalties is the right approach.

“Research is important, but I’m a little cautious the cost of research will be downloaded on to farmers,” he said.

“Farmers over generations have been doing amazing jobs being innovative on using the best technologies available of the day to do the good work that is increasing production and quality of products. That’s important, but farmers know best how to do that.”

Agriculture Canada and the CFIA will continue consulting with farmers over the proposal this winter. In the spring, a final session will be held in Ottawa to potentially seek final endorsements of the proposed models.

The proposal would apply only to new varieties that were registered after new plant breeders’ rights legislation came into effect in 2015.

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