Consultations begin on crop variety development support models: How did we get here?

The way farmers support new variety development of most open-pollinated and trait-free crops is set to change.

Currently, the federal government is hosting consultation meetings across Canada to garner feedback from farmers, plant breeders, seed companies, and industry on two proposed systems: end point royalty or trailing royalty contracts.

The impending change has been a large topic of discussion at this week’s Canadian Seed Trade Association semi-annual meeting held at Ottawa. To get the answers on what’s being presented and how we got here, RealAgriculture founder and radio host Shaun Haney sat down with Lorne Hadley, of the Canadian Plant Technology Agency.

In short, we’re in this consultation because of Canada’s adoption of UPOV ’91, a set of rules and regulations governing intellectual property protection of plant varieties. The convention sets out the rules around how varieties are bought and sold when seed is cleaned, sold, and planted. It also goes further to ensure that a seed company can bring in varieties from outside Canada with an assurance that its effort and development of new lines will be protected, allowing costs and investment dollars to be recouped.

International company’s wouldn’t let their material come in to Canada (without UPOV ’91),” Hadley says. And example is Limagrain Cereal Seeds, who have since launched a full-fledged breeding program at Saskatoon, SK.

Now, Canada’s seed industry must decide on a new royalty system — the government is presenting two options:  end point or trailing royalty contract. An end point royalty system means that farmers would have royalties deducted at the elevator when they deliver, and that royalty would be returned to the breeding program it came from. In a trailing royalty contract, farmers buying pedigreed seed, you’d sign a contract to say that you’ll pay a royalty on grain diverted for use as seed. This route would be governed by a series of verifications and audits.

Many farmers ask two key questions: what’s wrong with the system we have, and why are farmers the ones who have to support this entire system?

To the first question, Hadley says, “We’ve under invested in these crops (wheat, barley, etc),” There’s over $90 million invested in canola varietal development — paid for, at least in part, through certified seed sales. For open pollinated crops, such as wheat, we see about investment of about $2/acre in Canada versus  $3-4/acre in France, Hadley says. That lack of return means there’s little incentive for plant breeding programs to develop new lines of wheat, durum, and barley, for example.

Why is this entire cost for this on farmers? There’s a couple ways to look at this, he says, noting that when farmers buy seed, they’re paying for its use, yes, but also signalling to the breeder that this is a variety you want and need. That said, certified seed use — the only option for breeding programs to collect a royalty — is critically low in cereal crops, at about in 11% in durum and a high of 30% for malting barley if there’s a really good variety.

Hear more from Lorne Hadley, including a discussion on the Australian model, UPOV’91 details, and more on certified seed use levels in Canada: 

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