Pulse breeder looks for new funding sources

The University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre searches for other partners as well as Sask. Pulse Growers

A 21-year partnership that bolstered the western Canadian pulse industry will take a new form come 2020.

Since 1997, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers has provided exclusive funding for variety development at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon, and in turn the CDC has released lentil, pea, chickpea and dry bean varieties royalty-free to farmers.

According to an advertisement placed in industry publications, the CDC pulse-breeding program is looking for partners, in addition to SPG, to fund breeding and share in the returns that improved genetics bring to the industry.

Kofi Agblor, CDC managing director, said the change is a natural business evolution.

“Most people would agree that in the long term — for any type of business relationship — having only one source of funding and distribution may not be the best in the long term. You grow and things change. You can never remain with the status quo,” said Agblor, who has been at the CDC for seven years and was formerly director of research at SPG.

The CDC’s deadline for expressions of interest was Nov. 30. Selected partners were invited to submit full applications by Jan. 31. Successful applicants would begin funding by Oct. 1, 2020, to coincide with the conclusion of the current SPG-CDC agreement.

Eligible collaborators according to the CDC include producer organizations, processors and exporters, plant breeding organizations, developers of traits, and seed companies.

For its part, SPG will remain involved with the CDC, though the exact nature of that partnership is not determined.

Corey Loessin farms at Radisson, Sask., and is the current chair of SPG. He said the organization is committed to ensuring that pulse producers continue to have access to improved varieties and a better range of crop choices.

“If there is a new funding structure post-2020, it is not likely to generate significant resources right away and therefore some kind of transition period funding would have to be worked out,” said Loessin.

Loessin and Agblor see the change as a result of the pulse industry growing up.

“There has been considerable maturation of the pulse crop industry since the last SPG-CDC funding agreement 15 years ago. An updated agreement may be funded differently and may include more partners,” said Loessin

Agblor said he hopes that processors looking to develop or enhance specific market traits may partner with CDC. One example would be a pulse fractionation plant that wants a higher protein pea or fababean. Such varieties would have to be protected in a closed-loop system from breeder to farmer to processor otherwise the investment a processor makes at CDC could benefit its competitors.

Other potential partners could be genetic trait developers who have access to gene editing technology.

Agblor said the CDC can work with private plant-breeding businesses that might also be competitors because shared resources can lead to greater advancements than any one entity can achieve alone.

“Whether they come in as a partner or a competitor, it is all good for the industry because you are always leveraging additional germplasm,” said Agblor.

“Every program has a gem. Typically, we keep that in the black box, but if you’re a partner, then you open your black box so it benefits the two organizations.”

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