Immediate priorities identified for new wheat and barley organizations

One is deciding if farmers should own their own plant-breeding company

There are two pressing issues the West’s new provincial wheat and barley organizations need to address soon, a Manitoba consultant working for the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA) says.

One is prepare for the July 17, 2017 end of the temporary western Canadian wheat and barley checkoff for funding research and market development, said Brent VanKoughnet.

The other is figuring out the farmer’s role in variety development depending on what happens with publicly and privately funded research.

“Assessing the producer’s role in this thing is kind of tricky business,” he said during a panel discussion at the Interprovincial Seed Growers meeting in Winnipeg Nov. 5.

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Farmers should even consider owning their own crop variety development company, he said.

“I don’t think that’s the first place people’s minds go, but one of the scenarios is if it’s needed to preserve the capability of being competitive internationally would we have the stomach for it and would we have a plan for it?”

Given the complexity farmers should prepare now so they have a plan ready in case it’s needed, VanKoughnet said.

The temporary checkoff doesn’t end for more than two years, but there’s lots to do to prepare for a change that could see the Manitoba association’s wheat checkoff go to $1 a tonne from the current 52 cents.

“Producers better understand it. They better believe in it. They better see the benefits of it,” VanKoughnet said. “We have a lot of work to do to make sure that that happens seamlessly. You can’t say it’s two years away. A strategy needs to be in place six months from now so that two years from now it happens the way we all want it to. That one can sneak up on us really fast if we don’t have our eye on the ball.”

Ending the temporary checkoff has implications for the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), which gets part of it to fund research on farmers’ behalf.

“It really will be up to the commissions and associations on how they want to move forward,” WGRF executive director Garth Patterson said when asked if the WGRF would consider becoming a “for profit” plant-breeding company.

“We’ll respect any decision they’ll make as to whether they want to use us or our expertise or if they’ll want to approach it in a different way. We’ve committed to working with them.”

However, no matter what happens with checkoff funding, the WGRF will continue to have its $110-million endowment fund and the interest it earns to invest in agricultural research, he added.

The WGRF has a lot of valuable experience, but the new provincial organizations will want to decide how the money their farmers contribute is spent, VanKoughnet said in an interview.

“It is a new governance world so it’s going to be done differently than it has been done before,” he told the meeting. “But we have some lesson about how we do that.

“We’re going to need to establish interprovincial mechanisms to identify common priorities and joint funding initiatives for public programs, or even the extreme of some sort of joint ownership in a plant-breeding company, if we have to go down that road.”

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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