Producers urged to grasp plant breeding opportunity

The head of Saskatchewan’s general farm organization says the province’s farmers have a great opportunity to help determine the federal government’s future role in wheat and barley breeding and variety development.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said earlier this month that there’s a growing sense that Ottawa is looking for direction from farmers and producer groups on both the seed royalty issue and on the role that producer dollars can play in supporting and maintaining cereal breeding efforts at Agriculture Canada.

Lewis said there’s no doubt that producers have a significant opportunity to influence Ottawa’s decision on seed royalties and funding for public breeding programs.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think the (federal agriculture department) has been listening. I think there’s some momentum here and I think we have to seize that momentum as producers.”

About 18 months ago, Ottawa launched a consultation process aimed at gathering feedback on a proposal to introduce a new royalty collection system on yet-to-be commercialized plant-breeders’-rights (PBR) protected seed varieties.

It sought feedback on two proposed royalty collection systems:

  • End-point royalties would collect seed royalties on commercial grain crops at the point of sale.
  • Trailing royalties or seed variety use agreements would require farmers to sign a contract when new PBR-protected, royalty-eligible cereal varieties are purchased.

Neither of the proposed systems would prohibit the use of farm-saved seed for planting future crops but both would force farmers to pay royalties on the use of farm-saved seed for the purpose for replanting.

Last year, APAS conducted a survey seeking producer views.

The survey, which was completed by more than 1,100 growers, showed strong support for the consideration of other models that would provide an assurance that additional revenue raised would be re-invested in seed research, plant breeding and variety development.

A significant proportion of the growers who completed the survey also indicated that they would like an assurance that government funding for plant breeding programs would not be scaled back and that Agriculture Canada would retain an important role in the development of finished, market-ready cereal varieties.

The federal consultation has been inactive since last summer, but the issue is still on Ottawa’s agenda, Lewis said.

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation that provincial wheat and barley commissions in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba may play a key role in influencing Ottawa’s position on the future of public cereal breeding programming at Agriculture Canada.

The Canadian Wheat Research Cluster (CWRC), a producer-directed funding agency that was formed by the three prairie wheat commissions, is currently negotiating a new funding agreement for Agriculture Canada wheat breeding.

The previous core agreement, signed between the Agriculture Canada and the Western Grains Research Foundation, provided producer funding valued at $20 million over five years.

The new agreement would likely seek assurances that Ottawa will remain involved in the development of finished wheat and barley varieties and that producers will have a greater role to play in establishing priorities.

Harvey Brooks, general manager of SaskWheat, who also serves as president of the CWRC, said producer funds available through the CWRC should give provincial commissions and the producers they represent more say in how the Agriculture Canada program is managed.

“The last agreement was $20 million over five years, so this is big dollars we’re talking about,” Brooks said during a Jan 15 session on seed royalties at CropSphere in Saskatoon.

“We (the CWRC) have had good discussions with (Agriculture Canada) over this and hopefully there will be something we can announce in the near future.”

“We’ve been involved in negotiating some of the core funding agreements with the universities and with Ag Canada through the CWRC … and we’re currently in the process of re-negotiating the Ag Canada agreement,” added former SaskWheat chair Laura Reiter.

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