Seed research co-op pitched in Alta.

LEDUC, Alta. — The Alberta Federation of Agriculture is spearheading a new idea to bolster funding for cereal research, potentially offering an alternative to the controversial farm-saved seed royalty proposals.

While the organization’s idea is preliminary, it could see producers create a co-op that would collect a small levy for crop research, said Lynn Jacobson, president of the organization, following its annual general meeting in Leduc on Jan. 17.

Jacobson said the AFA plans on working with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, as well as the Keystone Agricultural Producers in Manitoba, to get the idea off the ground.

He said farm organizations have been looking for another way to boost research funding because of opposition to the proposed end-point or trailing farm-saved seed royalty models being proposed by Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“We’re committed to presenting another option and we thought this was a good start,” he said. “It would be producer money, an investment fund overseen by producers.”

Jacobson compared the proposed co-op idea to that of Limagrain, a French co-op founded and directed by farmers. Limagrain has partnered with Canterra Seeds to boost cereal breeding in Canada.

He said levies, anywhere from 60 cents to $1 per tonne, would be collected by the co-op. The funds would go into research and, because it would be administered by producers, they could ensure the funds are being spent appropriately.

He said a co-op ensures the link between farmers and researchers remains intact. There are worries that if private companies become more involved in the breeding process, farmers could lose that direct line.

“We want to have a say in breeding and be that partner,” he said. “This would keep that contact between producers and the breeders.”

However, Ag Canada officials have made it clear that under the royalty proposals, co-ops could play a role in the breeding process, as could multinational companies.

Ag Canada would still be involved in research, focusing more on what it calls discovery science, the complex stuff that would be too risky for private industry.

But Jacobson is also concerned that the proposed models might not bring in enough money and that the royalty rates could be increased over time.

He believes the funds from the AFA proposal would be sufficient. They would be in addition to commission check-off dollars, Western Grains Research Foundation funds, and contributions from the federal government.

“Nothing is set in stone, but this is an idea,” he said.

Jacobson said if it finds traction with the other provincial farm and seed groups, the idea will be presented to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s annual general meeting on Feb. 27.

As for Ag Canada’s royalty proposals, consultations will soon launch online and officials will continue to attend farm meetings this year. Officials have said they are open to new ideas on boosting research funding.

Prairie cereal grain commissions recently said they want the federal government to consider other funding options for boosting research, while Alliance Seed, Canterra, FP Genetics and SeCan have expressed support for the proposals, arguing it would enhance plant breeding and variety development.

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