Seed growers eye stronger regulatory role

The Canadian Seed Growers Association has released a business plan that charts a new course for the 117-year old organization.

Last year, CSGA members, which include about 3,100 pedigreed seed growers, rejected a proposal to merge with four other seed industry groups to form an all-encompassing seed industry organization called Seeds Canada.

The CSGA’s new business plan, unveiled last week, outlines the organization’s future goals and priorities, now that seed grower members have rejected the Seeds Canada merger plan.

“The CSGA 2.0 business plan provides CSGA’s vision for the future — a vision that is all about stepping up and putting CSGA at the centre of a renewed seed regulatory system (in Canada),” said Doug Miller, the group’s recently appointed executive director.

Execution of the plan will put CSGA in a position to play a bigger role in seed certification and could result in a greater level of delegated authority from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he said.

The federal government is currently conducting a review of Canadian regulations that apply to seeds that are imported, conditioned, stored, tested, labelled, exported and sold in Canada.

That exercise, known as Seed Regulatory Modernization, could see industry groups taking on a larger role in some areas of pedigreed seed certification.

It could also result in a reorganization of responsibilities currently being managed by the CFIA.

Potentially, some duties could be handed over to industry groups that are willing and able to play a larger role.

Some leaders in the Canadian seed industry say a system that allows for a greater degree of self-regulation would reduce costs and complexity, and would result in a more effective, efficient and responsive seed certification system.

“There’s a really great opportunity, through seed regulatory modernization, (for the CSGA) to make that positive change that we all want to see,” Miller said during the CSGA’s annual general meeting, an online event held April 14.

During its annual meeting, CSGA officials highlighted key elements in the organization’s new business plan and outlined important priorities:

In consultation with the CFIA, the CSGA sees itself playing a bigger role in seed certification and developing a system that is more efficient, provides new services and is more responsive to the needs of seed growers, seed users and the agriculture industry.

“What we’re trying to propose here is a CSGA-led, government enabled national seed certification system,” Miller said.

The CSGA has already taken significant steps toward reducing its dependence on paper-based documents, such as seed crop inspection applications and seed crop inspection reports.

In the future, it would like to transform the business of pedigreed seed production, marketing, and sales by introducing transparent, digital services with enhanced traceability.

CSGA officials said new digital systems would reduce administrative burden, provide additional data and add value for seed growers and seed users.

“This is about creating a digital end-to-end seed certification system and providing new value-added services to our members and industry,” Miller said.

“This means creating an inclusive service-oriented approach (and) finding ways to engage with members and stakeholders and build partnerships,” Miller said.

The CSGA 2.0 business plan also contains 14 policy recommendations that align with the organization’s vision of playing a more prominent role in seed certification.

Among the document’s policy recommendations are a call for the CFIA to expand CSGA’s authority to include responsibility for certification of Foundation, Registered and Certified seed classes.

The policy recommendations also support the concept of using “incorporation by reference” to make future changes to the Seeds Regulations, as opposed to requiring legislative approval.

The CSGA says CFIA should still be ultimately responsible for overseeing Canada’s seed certification program and should act as the authority responsible for approving seed regulatory changes made through “incorporation by reference.”

A complete copy of the new CSGA business plan can be viewed online at bit.ly/3ah2rci.

A survey seeking stakeholder feedback on Ottawa’s Seed Regulatory Modernization process was completed last month.

After a review of the feedback, proposed regulatory changes are expected in late 2022. That is expected to be followed by an industry-wide consultation in late 2022 or early 2023.

In its 2020 annual report, the CSGA also released details of the Seeds Canada merger vote.

The report, which can be viewed online at bit.ly/3af3euk, showed strong support for the merger among CSGA’s seed grower members in Ontario and Quebec but strong opposition in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Of the 351 seed growers who voted in Saskatchewan and Alberta, 257 (73 percent) were opposed to amalgamation.

Loss of autonomy and decision-making power were key considerations.

More than 48 percent of Canadian seed growers who voted said they were “very concerned” that CSGA’s provincial branches would have a reduced role in nominating representatives to the Seeds Canada board.

More than 46 percent said they were very concerned about potential financial barriers to seed grower membership in Seeds Canada beyond the first one to two years or about reduced benefits that seed growers would realize through the proposed merger.

Despite the outcome of the vote, the vast majority CSGA officials and members are still committed to working co-operatively with Seeds Canada, CSGA officials said.

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