Alternative seed funding plan in works

Farm groups in Western Canada have come up with an alternative plan aimed at generating additional revenue for plant-breeding programs and varietal development.

Details of the plan are expected to be shared with seed companies, pedigreed seed growers, seed industry stakeholders and government officials July 9 in Whistler, B.C., at the joint annual meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) and the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA).

The plan, supported by the Keystone Agricultural Producers , the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and the Alberta Federation of Agriculture , is meant as an alternative to the models presented by the federal agriculture department in seed royalty consultations held across Canada in late 2018 and early 2019.

In a June 25 interview, AFA president Lynn Jacobson declined to share specifics about the proposal in advance of the Whistler meeting.

But he said the alternative funding model, if implemented, would give western Canadian grain farmers more control over how seed royalties are distributed and more influence generally in discussions and decisions relating to seed royalties.

A key element of the proposal is focused on Agriculture Canada’s role as a developer of finished seed varieties — varieties whose names carry the recognizable AAC (Agriculture Canada) prefix.

Jacobson said growers across the West want an assurance that the federal agriculture department will continue to develop and commercialize Agriculture Canada varieties, rather than creating promising early-generation plant lines and turning them over to the private sector for finishing and market commercialization.

The nuts and bolts of the alternative plan were endorsed by the three western farm groups during a meeting held in Regina in mid-June.

Under existing models currently being considered by the federal government, “all of the royalties collected basically go to the seed companies themselves and there’s no accountability about how it’s being spent or anything else,” Jacobson said.

“So basically, there’s really no transparency or farmer control.

“What we’re saying is we want more farmer representation ….”

Sources close to the issue say the alternative funding plan involves a unique royalty collection model that would contribute some revenue to seed companies and retain another portion of revenue to be managed and distributed by producers.

The producer-retained portion could be used for research that supports variety development. It could also be used to support small plant breeding programs or varietal development work that takes place in the public sector, including government or university programs.

The model could be an important step in ensuring that Agriculture Canada plant breeding and varietal development programs remain intact.

At the mid-June meeting in Regina, provincial farm organizations also agreed that steps should be taken to familiarize Canadian grain growers with the royalty collection process and the federal consultations that are still ongoing, Jacobson said.

To that end, APAS is developing a website designed to increase producer awareness and answer some “non-political, non-partisan questions” about seed value creation initiatives.

Since late last year, Ottawa has hosted a series of meetings outlining options for generating more revenue to support plant breeding and varietal development efforts in Canada.

So far, two options have been explored — an end-point royalty charged on commercial crops that are planted with royalty eligible seed varieties including farm-saved seed, or a seed variety use agreement that would collect up-front royalties and specify, in contracts, farmers’ right to use and replant royalty eligible seed varieties.

Many producers who attended consultation meetings are opposed to both options being assessed by government.

Federal facilitators have said that they are open to hearing other proposals, including ideas brought forth by producers and producer groups.

APAS last week declined to comment on the alternative proposal, saying efforts are still in the initial stages.

However, APAS president Todd Lewis said earlier this year that he’s encouraged that there seems to be a willingness at Agriculture Canada to consider other options.

“Our membership wasn’t happy with either one of the proposals that were put forward initially and we certainly weren’t impressed with the level of producer engagement that took place before those two ideas were put forward,” Lewis said.

“I think that’s an indication that we need to have a Plan C that’s producer driven, from the grassroots up.”

Lewis said producers would be more inclined to support a model that ensures a greater level of producer control, and more transparency.

“I think the other part is that producers want to see governments still involved in research and varietal development, “ he added.

“(When it comes to varietal development) we’ve got some really good building blocks in place at AAFC and CDC (the Crop Development Centre)….

“Let’s ensure that we keep those pieces in place and improve on the system that we have.”

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