Canada’s largest distributor of certified seed is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Likely ahead of its time in bringing together industry, universities, government and producer partners, the not-for-profit member association known as SeCan was started in 1976.
“The roots are tied very closely to the Canadian Seed Growers Association — seed growers, seed trade, government, public, private all working together to try to find a better way to release varieties,” explains Todd Hyra, SeCan’s western business manager in the video below, filmed at Ag in Motion last week.
At the time SeCan was started, it wasn’t easy for new seed growers to get into the business, he says: “SeCan kind of leveled that playing field, allowing essentially anybody that was interested a way to participate.”
The first variety distributed by SeCan was Bruce barley, developed at the University of Guelph, which started returning royalties in 1979. Columbus wheat — SeCan’s first big Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat — was registered in 1980, with Westar canola’s registration following in 1982. Kyle, a leading durum variety for many years, was registered by SeCan in 1984, with popular malt barley variety Harrington coming in 1985. SeCan also introduced Harus soft white winter wheat in 1985, which became a top wheat variety in eastern Canada. Some of these historic varieties, including Colubus, AC Barrie and Harrington, were grown in heritage plots at AIM to mark the anniversary.
The company has invested the royalties from these lines in acquiring new varieties, funding breeding programs and adding marketing support over the years, notes Hyra. Since its inception, SeCan has contributed $97 million toward plant breeding. The association now has more than 480 varieties of cereals, oilseeds, pulses, special crops, grasses and legumes. Notably, in 2015, SeCan says it held the registrations for the most popular CWRS, CPS, durum, flax, malt barley, oat and fall rye varieties in Canada.
Going back to 1976, there were 238 members in SeCan who paid an annual membership fee of $150. Membership peaked at over 2,600 in the 1980s, but has since declined, along with farm consolidation. The numbers have been relatively stable at around the 700 mark for the last four or five years, says Hyra.
The seed industry environment has also changed over the last four decades, notably with the adoption of UPOV 91 plant breeders rights in 2015.
“There’ve been a number of big events that have happened over the years, and for me, one of the most significant was the passing of the new legislation for PBR,” says Hyra. “It’s an opportunity for us to provide better protection for our plant breeders to attract investment, and not only private investment, but public, to ensure they have a stable supply of funding.”
An anniversary celebration was held in conjunction with the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association’s annual meeting at Clear Lake, Manitoba on July 6. As a legacy project, SeCan has started a trust where it will match donations made by members to fund the ag awareness work of Farm & Food Care Canada (stay tuned for more info on RealAg.)