SaskWheat calls for broader consultations on seed royalties

The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission has added its name to the list of farmer organizations opposed to the introduction of end-point royalties or trailing contracts on farm-saved seed.

In a Jan. 8 news release, SaskWheat said the province’s wheat growers need more time to determine how the introduction of end-point royalties (EPRs) or trailing contracts would affect their farms financially.

SaskWheat also called on Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to engage in “broader consultations with Canadian grain farmers” before making any decisions on how wheat research and variety development programs are funded.

EPRs and trailing contracts are the two funding models at the center of a federal consultation process currently being facilitated by Agriculture Canada and the CFIA.

“The SaskWheat board of directors does not support either of the (value capture) options as presented by the federal government and it’s clear that neither of the two models have resonated with farmers,” said SaskWheat chair Laura Reiter, a grain grower from Radisson, Sask.

“Too few farmers know about what is being proposed and have had a chance to express their views. The current federal consultations need to be expanded and more options and information must be made available before any value capture changes are made.”

The federal agriculture department has hosted a series of stakeholder consultation meetings since last November aimed at gathering feedback on potential new value capture mechanisms in the Canadian seed sector.

Meetings held in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Ottawa have focused on two proposed funding models: end-point royalties and trailing royalties on farm-saved seed.

Under the first model, farmers would pay a fee on each tonne of royalty-eligible grain that is sold into commercial grain markets.

Under the second model, growers would be allowed to plant crops with farm-saved seed, but the use of farm-saved seed would be regulated by contracts that would allow seed developers to collect royalties each time farm-saved seed is resown.

Royalty rates and other terms would vary from contract to contract and from seed variety to seed variety, but it is widely assumed that trailing royalties, if introduced, would be charged on a per-seeded-acre or a per-seeded-tonne basis.

SaskWheat said it is unclear what financial impact either of the systems would have on the province’s wheat farms.

In the Jan. 8 news release, Reiter said SaskWheat supports farmers’ right to use farm-saved seed.

The organization is also “committed to being part of a system that will maintain farmer involvement and grow funding for wheat research in Canada,” the news release said.

However, the system that’s chosen must include strong public sector wheat research programs and should also facilitate research partnerships that receive financial support from government, producers and the private sector.

Reiter said Saskatchewan wheat growers have expressed a variety of opinions about the potential costs and the potential benefits of new seed royalties.

In general, too many Saskatchewan wheat farmers are unaware of what’s being proposed and how their farms would be affected.

To increase awareness and understanding, SaskWheat, along with SaskBarley, SaskOats, SaskFlax, SaskCanola and Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, plan to host a Jan. 16 engagement session on seed royalty consultations.

The session will take place from 2:30 to 4:30 pm at TCU Place in Saskatoon. It will allow growers to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposals currently being discussed.

Pre-registration is not required and all growers are encouraged to attend.

Organizations that support the notion of value capture, say additional revenues are needed to ensure that Canada’s seed breeding enterprises are adequately funded and that primary producers have access to new and improved seed varieties that enable them to remain competitive and profitable.

Anthony Parker, a leading authority on plant breeders rights and intellectual property protection in the Canadian seed sector, said the fundamental question underpinning the value creation discussion is whether primary producers are willing to pay more for innovative seed products.

By some estimates, only 20 percent of the cereal grain crops planted annually in Western Canada are sown with certified seed.

The remaining 80 percent — roughly 18 million acres per year — is sown royalty free with farm-saved seed.

“What we’re proposing under this regime is not to challenge anyone’s ability to save and re-use seed, to stock, to store, to condition or to re-use in subsequent years,” Parker said.

“What we’re asking is … do we have the … right balance?

“If someone (buys an innovative certified seed variety) and continues to benefit from that innovation year after year … should a contribution be given back, first of all to reward that innovation but also to create a climate that’s going to stimulate more innovation? That’s really the fundamental question.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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