More seed royalty options needed

SaskWheat supports the right of farmers to use farm-saved seed and is concerned how a trailing royalty may affect this.  |  File photo

Changes to the seed royalty collection system for wheat and other crops are being discussed now by Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Sask Wheat is committed to being a part of a system that will maintain and grow funding for wheat research in Canada. This system needs to include a strong research effort by the public sector and continue to provide for public-private- producer partnerships.

The two options, one an end-point royalty on all UPOV ’91 wheat varieties sold and the other a trailing royalty applied to farm-saved seed of these varieties, have now been circulated and discussed at a few consultation sessions. Sask Wheat does not support either of the options as presented by the federal government. Furthermore, Sask Wheat is supportive of the right of farmers to use farm-saved seed and is concerned how a trailing royalty may impact this.

From the two consultation sessions held in Saskatchewan, which included a session at CropSphere in January with about 400 people in attendance, it became clear that better information and more consultation is needed to provide producers with an opportunity to voice their concerns and understand how the changed royalty mechanisms will impact their farming operations.

The producer feedback at the consultation sessions showed there are a number of viewpoints on changing royalty collection for wheat and other crops. The feedback also showed that there are more questions than answers, with many wondering what the additional costs would be and if the returns on their investment would be as good as the returns from the investments made under producer-controlled checkoffs.

Many producers at the sessions asked why there were only two models being proposed by Agriculture Canada and the CFIA. Sask Wheat and producer commissions from across Western Canada have asked the same question and strongly believe there is a need to develop and discuss more options than the two that have been presented.

There are other value creation models available to producers to support varietal development efforts and these need to be explored through further consultation with producers. The critical feature of any system is the creation of actual value to producers. For this to happen, producers must be engaged in the process and involved in the research and outcomes.

While we are being told we will fall behind other countries if royalties are not implemented, the information being presented to support the claims is either lacking or has been refuted. Recent studies have shown that from 1991 to 2012, on-farm CWRS yields across the Prairies increased at an average rate of 1.4 percent per year. This is above worldwide wheat yield gains of 1.16 percent per year. Clearly our current system is not broken, although we understand and appreciate the calls for sustained research funding.

Producers have funded successful variety development in Canada for decades, providing capacity funding through core breeding agreements with Agriculture Canada and the western universities, as well as research project funding through the Canadian National Wheat Cluster. Producers have partnered with both public and private sectors to fund wheat research. Producer-funded varietal development of wheat has led to improved varieties with increased yields, resistance to serious pests and diseases, and desirable end-use characteristics.

The proposed value creation models would see producers paying more. While we acknowledge that we work in a quickly evolving industry where research effort is critical, the past investment and achievements the producer checkoffs have delivered cannot be ignored or minimized.

Sask Wheat encourages producers to participate in the upcoming online consultations and any further in-person consultations hosted by Agriculture Canada and the CFIA. It is our hope that this process will lead to greater producer involvement and value creation options that complement the tremendous gains Canada has made in cereal breeding and research.

Laura Reiter is chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.

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