A resolution in favour of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA) opposing Canada’s plan to implement UPOV ’91 was narrowly defeated at the association’s annual meeting in Winnipeg Feb. 18.
It took a tie-breaking vote from the MCGA president and meeting chair Ed Rempel to defeat the resolution put forward by Deleau farmer Ian Robson nine to eight.
Robson warned UPOV ’91 will result in farmers paying more for seed, boosting seed company’s profits.
UPOV ’91 (Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties 1991 Convention) gives plant breeders stronger rights over the varieties they produce. It will also allow them to collect end-use royalties from farmers when they deliver grain to elevators, even if they don’t buy new seed. That, the federal government says, will return more revenue to plant breeders who then will invest more in developing new varieties.
Provisions for implementing UPOV ’91 are part of Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, an omnibus bill currently before the House of Commons.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says UPOV ’91 will allow farmers to save seed as they do now, so long as they don’t sign contracts prohibiting it. But according to Robson, breeders would have to grant farmers the privilege to save seed, which isn’t a guarantee. He noted there is a long tradition of farmers saving seed and growing it or selling it to neighbours.
“We need to take a stand,” he said. “UPOV ’91 is not farmer friendly.”
Robson said variety development through the public sector has served farmers and taxpayers well. Farmers got good varieties and taxpayers enjoyed food security.
He called UPOV a private club of seed companies.
“For some reason (Agriculture) Minister (Gerry) Ritz goes along with their rules that are anti-democratic,” he said later in an interview. “What about the minister writing rules for us as farmers and for the Canadian public?
“Either you’re for a shareholder investor or you’re for a farmer.”
MCGA directors Larry Bohdanovich of Grandview and Butch Harder of Lowe Farm spoke in favour of the resolution.
Harder said UPOV ’91 will cost farmers a lot more money. With canola seed $550 a bushel, they already pay too much, he said.
University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist Richard Gray has determined seed companies only invest 10 per cent of their seed sale revenues into research, he added.
From the Grainews website: UPOV ’91 en route through feds’ ‘Agricultural Growth Act’
Directors Brian Chorney of East Selkirk and Chuck Fossay of Starbuck spoke against the resolution. Chorney argued more money needs to be invested in variety development and UPOV ’91 will encourage that. Both farmers and plant breeders will benefit, he said, quoting from a recent opinion piece written by public plant breeders Keith Downey and Bryan Harvey.
Rempel cited work by consultant Carman Read that estimated end-point royalties will raise $40 million for public research conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
St. Francois Xavier farmer Ed Hiebert questioned whether directors should debate resolutions, suggesting it should be left to the membership.
Minto farmer David Rourke said if UPOV ’91 is implemented farmers could consider investing in their own variety research, recouping on the investment resulting from the royalties collected from them.
“It seems to me that the federal government has made up its mind and when the Harper government makes up its mind on something it tends to stay made up,” Rempel said later in an interview. “Now we can tilt against windmills all we want, but I don’t know where it will get us.”
Robson and Hiebert also complained the annual meeting was too rushed. It was held during the CropConnect conference and had to end at a specific time to avoid conflicting with a conference session.
The Manitoba corn, pulse and flax grower associations and the National Sunflower Association of Canada all held their annual meetings at the same time, preventing farmers from attending more than one meeting.
Rempel said the canola association would work with the conference committee to try and address the complaints.
Rempel also thanked retiring directors Ernie Sirski of Dauphin and Harder.
Sirksi was a director for 18 years, during which time he held many positions on the board.
Harder stepped down after eight years, even though directors are allowed to serve for up to 12 years. Harder said later he felt it was time to move on and let someone else fill the position.
Rempel, who farms near Starbuck, was re-elected president for 2014, with Selkirk farmer Brian Chorney serving as vice-president, Hugh Drake of Elkhorn as treasurer, and Charles Fossay of Starbuck as secretary.