Seed royalty delay

WHISTLER, B.C. — How to collect royalties on farm-saved seed was a key issue for seed industry organizations gathered in Whistler, B.C., last week.

However, a final decision doesn’t seem likely any time soon as different groups continue to grapple over the best way to collect royalties on newer varieties of seed.

As well, knowledge of the seed royalty issue is still limited, at least among many of the country’s farmers.

Meanwhile, government officials gathering industry feedback confirmed last week that the next steps in the consultation process have been delayed.

The online phase of the federal government’s seed royalty consultation, initially scheduled for spring of 2019, has still not materialized and government officials who spoke in Whistler offered no definitive timeline for when the process is likely be launched.

What’s more, a long-awaited economic analysis on seed royalties — a element that some groups consider critically important — has not been completed and timelines for its release have not been established.

Federal facilitators shared preliminary details of Ottawa’s economic analysis on July 9, but a complete economic assessment that looks at how much revenue might be generated and how farmers’ bottom lines are likely to be impacted could still be months away, sources in the federal government said.

Lorne Hadley, executive director with the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), said despite challenges, work aimed at implementing a new seed royalty collection system is moving forward.

He said the discussions at the July 7-10 Whistler meeting suggest more groups, including farmer-supported lobby organizations, recognize the need for greater investments in plant breeding.

During a panel discussion on the topic, representatives from the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA) acknowledged that greater investments in plant breeding would be beneficial.

“I appreciated that we heard from … farmers who had opposing views on how to (generate more revenue for plant breeding) but who were both absolutely convinced that this has to be done,” said Hadley.

“Producer groups, that were, in the past, somewhat questioning whether or not there needed to be a change now seem to have moved to a point where they now understand the need for more investment in plant breeding.”

Work on a new royalty collection system for farm-saved seed has been underway in Canada for years.

In late 2018, Ottawa held a series of meetings across the country to gauge industry support.

In Whistler, federal government officials Carla St. Croix with Agriculture Canada and Anthony Parker with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acknowledged that they heard a variety of viewpoints on the topic, some from farmers who support the need for a new royalty collection system and others from growers who strongly oppose the idea.

Parker said Ottawa is committed to hearing the views of all stakeholders and has established a producer panel of grain growers and seed consumers that will offer additional views on the impacts of a new seed royalty collection system.

When Ottawa launched its seed royalty consultations in late 2018, the government was seeking feedback on two proposed collection models — an end-point royalty (EPR) collected on all commercial sales of royalty eligible seed varieties and a trailing royalty, which would allow farmers to replant farm-saved seed for a pre-determined fee.

Since then, other models have emerged, including a system supported by general farm organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

That system, presented in Whistler by Alberta Federation of Agriculture president Lynn Jacobson, would collect revenues through end-point royalty.

The majority of the revenues collected would be distributed to private-sector and public-sector plant breeding programs, but another portion — in the range of 15 percent — would be retained as a producer “carve-out.”

The producer carve-out portion, which would be managed by grower groups and invested at their discretion, could be used to support breeding investments in minor crops or in areas that do not typically attract private sector investors.

Jacobson described it as a variation of a royalty collection system currently used in France.

The three prairie farm groups announced this week that they will be conducting an online survey on the seed royalty issue.

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