Syngenta cancels cereal research program in Canada

One of the largest seed companies in the world is ending its cereal breeding program in Canada.

Syngenta Canada announced plans to discontinue its Canadian cereal seed research and development program by Jan. 1.

The company plans to continue cereal breeding programs in other countries, including the United States, but will cease wheat and barley breeding and trialing operations in Canada, the company said in a Nov. 13 news release.

The decision will affect five employees across Western Canada.

Dan Wright, who leads Syngenta Canada’s seed business, said the company will remain involved in the development of corn and soybean varieties aimed at the Canadian marketplace.

Syngenta’s existing research and development facilities in Canada will remain open, he added.

The development and commercialization of made-in-Canada soybean and corn varieties will remain a priority for the company, Wright said. “We’ll continue research and development (in those crops)…,” he said.

“We’ve certainly been doing a significant amount of work on corn and soybeans in Western Canada … and that remains a focus point for Syngenta.”

Syngenta’s existing cereal seed products account for a small portion of total Canadian cereal grain production.

Total Canadian acreage has been increasing, but in 2019, Syngenta wheat varieties were sown on fewer than 15,000 acres of farmland across the West.

Existing Syngenta cereal seed varieties that have already been commercialized in Canada or are close to commercialization will not be affected by the decision, Wright said.

Cereal seed products already on the market, including CWRS wheat varieties SY Obsidian, SY Sovite, SY479 VB, SY Slate, as well as CPSR wheat SY Rowyn and barley varieties Sirish and AAC Synergy, will not be affected by the decision.

All of those varieties will still be available to commercial growers in 2020 and beyond.

Additional Syngenta cereal varieties that are currently in multiplication, including SY Torach, SY Gabbro and SY Chert VB, will also be unaffected and will continue to move forward into the commercial seed market.

Syngenta Canada also has five additional wheat lines — four in the CWRS class and one CPSR — that were supported for registration by the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC) in early 2019.

Those yet-to-be-named varieties will also move forward but will be the last made-in-Canada cereal seed varieties developed by the company.

News of Syngenta’s most recent decision has prompted some seed industry observers to question whether the company’s decision to curtail Canadian cereal is linked to seed royalties.

The Canadian seed trade has been pushing for implementation of a new seed royalty collection system that would allow seed companies and breeding institutions to generate more revenue from the new seed varieties they develop.

Wright said Syngenta’s decision to discontinue cereal breeding operations in Canada was made “independent of consultation regarding the seed value capture system in Canada.”

“That being said, the discussions that have taken place and are taking place (around seed royalties) I think highlight some of the challenges in the Canadian marketplace today,” he said.

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