Seed royalty plan alarms growers

Wheat and barley commissions across Western Canada expressed disappointment and concern last week following an announcement that the Canadian seed trade is moving ahead with a new seed royalty collection system.

Wheat and barley commissions in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba contacted federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau to express “serious concerns” about a seed royalty pilot project that was announced last week by the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA).

The provincial commissions are also asking Ottawa to provide clarity on the status of a federal consultation process on seed royalties that was launched in 2018 but has yet to be completed.

Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission, said his organization was disappointed that the seed industry chose to launch a new royalty collection system before the federal consultation process could be completed.

Ottawa has been silent on the seed value creation file since early 2019 and has shown little inclination to finish the consultation process that it initiated almost a year and half ago.

“When we (producer commissions) deal with our business partners — and this includes the seed industry and the government of Canada — we look for honesty and transparency and we really question whether those principles are being followed,” Steve said.

“We entered a (federal) consultation process in good faith, looking at two models for a potential royalty structure and that consultation process stalled roughly a year ago.

“Now the seed industry has decided to forge ahead with their preferred model … and we don’t have any clarity from the federal government as to whether their consultation process is going to continue or not.

“We have some serious questions for (Ottawa) as to whether or not they’re just going to allow this process to unfold or whether there’s any point in continuing.”

Brett Halstead, a grain farmer from Nokomis, Sask., who serves as chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SaskWheat), voiced similar concerns, suggesting the new royalty collection system announced last week undermines the entire federal consultation process.

“There’s a consultation process that’s going on that we haven’t seen the end of yet,” Halstead said.

“We’re still waiting for an economic analysis (from Agriculture Canada), which is supposed to be out soon. In general, I think it’s against the spirit of the consultations to be moving ahead with … a pilot project while consultations are still going on.”

Over the past year or more, farmer reaction to a new seed royalty collection system has been mixed.

Some growers and grower groups have voiced support for the idea but many are strongly opposed. They argue that placing restrictions or contractual limitations on farmers’ ability to use farm-saved seed on a royalty-free basis is unnecessary and will impose additional costs on the primary producer at a time when farm profits are already shrinking.

On Feb. 26, provincial wheat and barley commissions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta issued a strongly worded news release, expressing “significant concerns about the Seed Variety Use Agreement (SVUA) pilot project and its future impact on western Canadian wheat and barley producers.”

“The five wheat and barley commissions (in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) are not a party to, nor supportive of this pilot SVUA program,” the joint news release stated.

Provincial cereal commissions are particularly concerned that the new royalty collection system being launched by the CSTA and CPTA may be expanded to include publicly funded Agriculture Canada cereal grain varieties.

If farmers are expected to fund public plant breeding activities on the front end as well as paying farm-saved seed royalties on the back end, then provincial commissions could see a significant clawback in producer levies, Halstead said.

The launch of a seed royalty pilot comes at a sensitive time for Ag Canada, which is currently negotiating a new five-year core funding agreement with the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC), which comprises provincial wheat commissions across the Canadian Prairies.

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