Wheat growers fund ag research

Wheat growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba plan to spend $22.6 million over five years to support wheat breeding and variety development efforts at Agriculture Canada.

The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC), which invests producer check-off dollars on behalf of producer-directed wheat commissions, announced Oct. 19 that it has reached a new five-year funding agreement with Ag Canada.

The new agreement runs from April 1 to March 31, 2025, and will ensure that western Canadian wheat farmers have access to new Ag Canada wheat varieties for at least five more years.

The agreement replaces producer funding that was previously provided through the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF).

The money will be used to develop field-ready Ag Canada wheat varieties in the Canadian Western Red Spring (CWRS), Canadian Western Amber Durum (CWAD), Canadian Prairie Spring Red (CPSR), Canada Western Soft White Spring (CWSWS), and Canada Western Red Winter (CWRW) wheat classes.

The new agreement represents a $2.6 million increase over the previous five-year deal, which expired March 31.

“The activities being conducted by Canadian researchers and wheat breeders such as those at (Ag Canada) have led to major innovations over the past few decades, including the development of several new wheat varieties with improved genetics and more desirable traits,” said Fred Greig, CWRC board chair and director with the Manitoba Crop Alliance.

“This investment will ensure Canadian farmers benefit from new wheat varieties that improve and enhance the competitiveness of their farming operations while maintaining Canada’s reputation for providing quality wheat for markets around the globe.”

Provincial contributions under the new agreement are based on provincial wheat production from the previous crop year. Using that formula, Saskatchewan growers will contribute 53 percent, compared to Alberta’s 32 percent and Manitoba’s 15 percent.

Harvey Brooks, CWRC president and general manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SaskWheat), said the new agreement provides an assurance that growers will have access to new and improved AAFC wheat varieties.

However, the agreement does not rule out the possibility that yet-to-be commercialized AAFC wheat varieties could have variety use agreements (VUA) attached to them.

“It (the agreement) does not have that commitment in there but there is a (provision) for (Ag Canada) to discuss that with us and for us to be informed before any commercializer would try to go in that direction,” Brooks said.

The issue of attaching VUAs to publicly developed wheat varieties has been a contentious issue for the prairie wheat commissions and the CWRC.

Brooks said wheat growers already provide a significant amount of up-front funding for Ag Canada wheat varieties through core funding agreements, the Canadian National Wheat Cluster, and provincial ag funding mechanisms such as Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) and Alberta’s Ag Funding Consortium.

Growers shouldn’t be expected to pay additional royalties on those seed varieties or sign royalty-enabling VUAs until more discussions have taken place, he added.

Last year, Canadian seed distributor SeCan announced plans to include two Ag Canada wheat varieties — AAC Starbuck and AAC Wheatland — in a new VUA pilot project.

SeCan reversed its decision earlier this year citing strained relations with the prairie wheat commissions. The company did not rule out the possibility that VUAs would be attached to other SeCan varieties in the future.

Brooks said the CWRC was not supportive of the SVUA pilot project and hasn’t endorsed any of the so-called “value creation” options that were being considered by the seed industry.

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