Long debate over seed royalty proposal may be nearing end

The long-awaited process of determining the future of seed royalty rates in Canada is approaching its final stages.

At least, it seems that way.

The process officially began in 2013 when the then-Conservative government introduced a law allowing royalty collection on seeds.

Some may recognize this as part of the massive Bill C-18, the Agriculture Growth Act, or more specifically, UPOV 91.

The law didn’t pass until 2015, eight months before the Conservatives were voted out and replaced by the still-governing Liberals.

Despite the change in government, discussions in and outside of government on the topic continued. A number of reports from agriculture groups have come out in recent years and a federal working group undertook the job of proposing potential models.

By 2018, Agriculture Canada carried out stakeholder consultations and presented information on end-point royalties and contract-enabled royalty collection (such as the eventually proposed “trailing contracts” royalty option).

But response to the two models ultimately selected by Agriculture Canada were rejected, with little appetite among producers for royalties being collected on commercial sales of eligible varieties or paying predetermined fees to replant farm-saved seed.

While it is safe to say there is a general consensus across the ag world that a value-creation model is needed, those in some circles suggest that Ag Canada has yet to prove a benefit for moving forward with either of the options presented.

At last check, Ag Canada was suggesting it was “supportive of industry-led projects that are underway and is listening to stakeholders as it determines next steps.”

A major industry-led project has now been launched, with the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA) and the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) testing a pilot for what it is calling a Seed Variety Use Agreement (SVUA) that will provide evidence of value to having a system in place.

It will be a contract-enabled royalty collection system, with producers keeping seed year-to-year and being invoiced a predetermined amount each year the SVUA variety is grown.

Despite the announcement, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is aware of various other opinions on the subject.

(A quick aside: I first asked Bibeau about this a few weeks ago, and she admitted she was unaware of the issue, prompting a column on why she should be prepared to answer questions on agriculture policy her government is proposing. Asked again weeks later, she said the topic “wasn’t fresh in my mind last time.”)

“We got very different opinions and positions on this issue,” she said. “So the department is really working on the economic analysis of that. We wanted and we’re proud of making decisions based on facts and evidence. So this is why the department will provide me with the economic analysis.”

That analysis has been a long time coming. There’s suggestion it may be coming as soon as early March, but Bibeau wouldn’t say — she gave a flat “no” when asked if she knew when it would be released.

She maintained she is still “very open to different options” and wants to make a decision supported by data.

The new pilot project has potential to provide her with just the data she is looking for and to finally bring the process to a closure, in spite of continued opposition.

Time will tell.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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