Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is proposing to reduce Canada’s crop variety registration system from three tiers to two by 2016.
One of the tiers would still include merit testing as part of the process for registering new wheats for western Canadian farmers, which is seen by many as an important tool in assuring wheat end-use quality.
The proposal was discussed at a Winnipeg meeting with seed industry representatives in early October, Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association told the Interprovincial Seed Growers meeting in Winnipeg Nov. 5.
The registration system was last revamped in 2009 after several years of consultation. The tiers include:
- Part I: Crops in this category require up to three years of merit testing and then the recommendation of an expert committee before being registered. New wheats are in this category. They must meet agronomic, disease and end-use quality standards for the class they are intended for.
- Part II: Crops are tested but merit is not assessed.
- Part III: Crops in this category don’t have to provide any testing information, but must demonstrate to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that the variety is new, distinguishable from others, uniform and stable.
Stakeholders in the value chain determine in which category a crop belongs.
AAFC is proposing eliminating Part II but keeping Part I as “enhanced” registration and Part III as “basic” registration.
“All other crop kinds currently subject to variety registration would remain where they are… but if a new crop, like Brassica carinata, wanted to enter the variety registration system it would enter at the basic registration level,” Adolphe said.
Wheat and canola would continue under enhanced registration, which includes merit testing, he said.
Forages and soybeans, which recently moved to Part III would go to basic registration.
While AAFC proposes pulse crops be moved to basic registration, some pulse industry officials want certain pulses to remain in the enhanced registration box. “So I think pulses are still up for discussion,” Adolphe said.
Questions are also being raised about whether to continue exempting some crops, such as corn, from the registration process.
Under AAFC’s proposal, the number of expert recommending committees will go to 12 from 17.
Moving crops from one category to another will be easier too. Bill C-30, the Agricultural Growth Act, expected to pass before Christmas, includes provisions for “incorporation by reference,” Adolphe said. That means moving crops from one category to another will no longer require cabinet approval. However, industry consensus would still be required.
Some private wheat-breeding companies and some farmers say the current registration system is unpredictable, subjective and bureaucratic, which discourages innovation.
In August 2013, AAFC launched a review of the registration system, suggesting four options:
- Keep the current system, allowing its inherent flexibility to emerge.
- Streamline the regulatory process by requiring all crops meet minimum registration requirements with the option for some to have merit assessment through an independent assessment process.
- Streamline the regulatory process by maintaining a minimum level of federal government oversight (similar to the current Part III), and eliminate any merit assessment or performance data.
- Drop all federal government oversight allowing industry or third parties to take over.
Producing high-quality wheat is important for Western Canada and the variety registration system plays a role in achieving it, Rob Graf, a wheat breeder with AAFC in Lethbridge, told the meeting.
“I think we have to differentiate our product, so there’s market pull, recognizing that we export about 80 per cent of the wheat that we grow,” Graf said.
In July, Graf spoke at a Brazilian conference about how Canada achieved its reputation for producing the best wheat in the world. He credited the Canada Seeds Act, the Canada Grain Act, oversight by the Canadian Grain Commission, the work of seed growers and the registration system.
“At the end of the process we know where it (a new variety of wheat) fits in terms of the class system,” Graf said. “Nobody else has that. And in fact what that does is it actually speeds the uptake of the varieties in the market (among farmers).”
Some companies say they can register many more new wheats in the United States than Canada, Graf said.
“The reality is there is no registration system in the United States, so keep that in mind,” he said.
Critics have also said they want a predictable system.
“If everything that goes in is going to be registered, it’s not serving any purpose,” Graf said. “The registration system is really a gatekeeper and there’s going to be winners and there are going to be losers. And that’s the way it has to be or we don’t need it.”
Seed growers like the current system, because it weeds out poorer varieties, making it easier for seed growers and ultimately farmers to pick winning varieties, said Eric McLean, president of the Manitoba Seed Growers Association.
“The one thing the market is not able to do right now is… to provide enough slush money to allow for the disposal of all these new varieties that could possibly get to market,” McLean said.
“The (current) program is working well. It’s unfortunate that it still takes the length of time it still does to produce a variety.”
According to critics new wheats get commercialized in the U.S. faster, but Graf disagrees.
“The timeline from when a cross is made to release is no different than ours,” he said. “In fact, in some cases it’s longer. So our registration system is not holding up the release of varieties.”