Too soon vs too slow: Bringing new technology to market — ABIC ’17 preview

The length of time it takes to a new technology to clear regulatory approvals is often seen as a barrier to innovation.

In the case of a new wheat variety, for example, there are multiple pieces of federal legislation (ie. the Canada Seeds Act and the Canada Grains Act) and government departments involved in bringing forward. It’s a lengthy process before farmers are finally giving the option of purchasing the new seed.

At the same time, farmers don’t want to have to learn the hard way that a new variety is inferior to existing options. That is, there are risks with bringing new technology to market too quickly.

In agriculture, like other industries where innovation is needed, there’s a balance between getting new technology out quickly and making sure it’s ready to be scaled up.

If the goal is to foster innovation, how should we balance the risks and rewards in shortening the time it takes for a new technology or variety to be introduced?

Ron DePauw

It’s less about time than it is data, says Ron DePauw, who spent more than 40 years breeding many of the wheat varieties grown in Western Canada today.

“You want to be able to predict future performance based on the data that you’ve got, and you want that prediction for future performance to be at an acceptable level of probability or risk,” he explains in the interview below, previewing what he’ll be discussing at the Agricultural Bioscience International Conference (ABIC) in Winnipeg next week.

Farmers might be excited about the 100+ bushel per acre yield potential of a new wheat variety, but you also want to make sure it’s not susceptible to disease or falling flat in July before selling it to them. It’s about confidence in real-world performance of the new technology. (continues below)

Listen to Ron DePauw discuss the process for bringing new wheat varieties to market and the balance between too-soon and too-slow in bringing new technology:

It might be counter-intuitive, but that means faster isn’t always better for fostering innovation and adoption of new technology, he says, referring to his observations of the differences between how new wheat varieties are brought to market in western versus eastern Canada.

In western Canada, there must be three years of data collected before a variety can be considered for registration. Only two years of testing are required in eastern Canada, DePauw explains.

It’s only a one-year difference, but he says seed companies aren’t as confident in the two-year data.

“When there are just two years of data, the seed companies are not in a position to say ‘I think this is good enough.’ If they want to do more testing, that means the breeder isn’t going to submit documents for registration and produce breeder seed because they don’t know if the company is going to adopt the variety or not. So everything goes really slow,” states DePauw.

It’s this reliable information and testing that gives the rest of the value chain confidence in a new variety, and enables widespread adoption, he says.

DePauw will be part of a session focusing on innovation and barriers in the introduction of new technology at the 2017 ABIC event. (Find out more here.)

 

Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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