It was an idea with the best of intentions — to bring the five major Canadian seed-related member organizations together under the banner of Seeds Canada.
The idea was to address government and stakeholders with one voice, lower delivery costs for programming, and ensure farmers have access to the world-class genetics they deserve and expect.
The merger would have brought the Canadian Plant Technology Agency; Commercial Seed and Analysts Association of Canada; Canadian Seed Growers Association; Canadian Seed Institute; and, the Canadian Seed Trade Association under one umbrella organization, Seeds Canada.
But now that the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) has voted against joining the new Seeds Canada this week, questions arise regarding not just the future of Seeds Canada, but also the CSGA.
As indicated to me by Glyn Chancey, executive director of the CSGA, in an interview after the vote, there is a provision for any of the groups to hold a re-vote if they did not get their membership “across the line” the first time.
But when you need a 67% majority, only getting 45% — as CSGA did — to vote yes appears to be nowhere near close enough to call a re-vote. It’s clear that a majority of the CSGA members have no interest in trusting or working side-by-side with their industry counterparts. In terms of CSGA, a significant number of members don’t want to join Seeds Canada, it appears.
Will Seeds Canada still exist?
The four remaining groups who have voted in favour of the plan will take a deep breath to ponder their future. I fully expect that all the remaining four groups will proceed and form Seeds Canada-4 (as we’ll call it for now) rather quickly. Yes, without the CSGA.
In my opinion it made sense for the CSGA to be part of Seeds Canada, but their lack of participation presents opportunities for the new Seeds Canada organization. It’s no secret that there has always been relationship issues between the growers and the seed trade. Historical events would prove that. Deep-rooted stereotypes established over time have hampered the relationship, for sure.
Since last December, when the proposed governance structure was rolled out, there have been strong feelings on which organization had the upper hand instead of focusing on the compromises required to complete the deal. A major criticism by CSTA members of the structure was that a “CSGA-like” provincial structure would exist. I would expect Seeds Canada-4 to move ahead without the provincial committees and take on a sleeker, less bureaucratic, committee-by-topic structure: for example, Intellectual Property, Western Crops, or International Trade.
There already was a movement afoot for some CSGA members to become CSTA members and I expect that to accelerate among seed growers who wanted to join Seeds Canada. CSGA is a certification agency while CSTA is a member-driven advocacy organization. There are also reasons to be a part of both if they are independent organizations.
Even without the CSGA officially involved, Seeds Canada-4 can still represent the interest of the progressive growers looking to build their production, processing, or retail businesses. As these key growers join Seeds Canada-4, the new organization will be able to say it represents growers, but does not distribute crop certificates (an underlying purpose of CSGA).
CSGA has to find a path forward
On Friday, CSGA will hold a board meeting to set their path forward. The board of directors must consider whether this was a non-confidence vote by the membership; how the organization deals with its financial issues; and what a possible restructuring will look like to be able to sustainably issue crop certificates in the future.
For CSGA members, I understand the concern for the future. Personally, I was very recently a CSGA member with one retail outlet and a processing plant trying to sort out a path forward. My solution was to sell the business and focus all of my efforts on RealAgriculture.
The challenge ahead for many seed growers and retailers is daunting, for sure. Being a traditional CSGA grower and retailer in a local community has changed massively over the last generation. Reductions in public breeding funding, increased competition from line companies, and the need to shift towards aggressive sales tactics have left many of my CSGA friends frustrated. CSGA is an organization with a rich history that is woven with family seed farms that have spent hours cleaning combines, days hand-roguing fields, and planting half acre breeder plots to provide the neighbours with the latest in genetics.
At one time the CSGA membership was the face of the seed industry. Much of the three thousand-plus members are not traditional grower/processor/retailers and instead grow under contract for a seed company. This forced-membership to receive a crop certificate is why voter turnout was so low, in my opinion.
Voting against Seeds Canada was a vote against a recognition of the future, more than the specifics of Seed Canada, I think.
CSGA can survive outside of Seeds Canada but it will take a restructuring and further recognition of what its real objective is in the seed value chain as it scales down its budget.
The biggest misconception on the vote
Some supporters of the CSGA “no” vote have possibly confused what this decision means for the new royalty structure being introduced in Canada. The implementation of the SVUA pilot project and the new royalty collection system in Canada are not impacted by this vote at all, based on several people I talked to in the last two days. For the past year, many people have confused Seeds Canada for having a sole purpose to implement this new royalty regime, but that is an incorrect representation. The two topics are related, but not the same.
Everything starts with the seed
I love the seed industry, I grew up in it, and call many people among the five organizations friends, and know that many of them are in RealAgriculture audience. The seed industry is relatively small inside the agriculture industry that has its own challenges gaining traction with government. Whatever happens with CSGA, CSTA, and Seeds Canada, the industry has an immense responsibility to continue to deliver high quality seed to farmers across the country every spring and fall. The question now is how collaborative of an effort that will be.