Proposed changes to Canada’s crop variety registration system could take effect before year’s end or early in 2016 via order-in-council, federal officials say.
The reforms will streamline the process and ensure red tape doesn’t delay or prevent farmers from getting new and improved varieties, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told the Canadian Global Crops Symposium here last month.
However, when all is said and done the new process will be very similar to the current one.
New varieties seeking Canadian Food Inspection Agency registration will fall under one of two tiers — “Basic” or “Enhanced” — instead of the current three.
Crops in the “Enhanced” box, such as wheat, will still require pre-registration testing and assessment by an expert committee which will recommend the variety for registration.
Crops, such as forages, in the “Basic” category will not require merit testing. But crop developers will still have to demonstrate their variety is unique and stable.
A crop can be moved from one option to the other if there’s industry consensus as is the case now.
“Varietal registration is the underlying foundation of Canada’s grain quality assurance system,” Ritz said.
System supporters agree. But two years ago some seed companies and farmers complained the system blocked access to improved varieties. Some high-yielding wheats weren’t supported for registration because they failed to meet the end-use quality specifications required in their intended class.
System supporters say it protects farmers and end-users from inferior varieties. Critics argue the marketplace can sort that out.
Three categories cut to two
The current system has three parts:
- Under Part I crops require up to three years of merit testing before they can be registered. Western Canadian wheat falls under Part I.
- Under Part II crops require pre-registration testing but no merit assessment. Safflowers fall in this option.
- Under Part III crops are subject only to basic variety registration requirements. Sunflowers and commercial potatoes fall under this option.
Under the new system, Part II will be eliminated. Part I will become “Enhanced” registration and Part III will be “Basic.”
CFIA’s model operating procedures still need changes. Recently revised versions will be sent to the expert committees this month for their consideration. The intent is to make procedures more consistent and transparent, Ritz said. “Together these changes will give varietal developers greater clarity and predictability throughout the registration process.”
Future changes will be done through “incorporation by reference,” speeding the process by up to two years, Ritz said.
The Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (PRCWRT) made major changes to its operating procedures in 2013. It made more changes in 2014 and at its last meeting in February.
Past changes include collecting and assessing three years of data instead of four and accepting data from private companies so long as it meets the committee’s trial protocols.
A major change adopted in 2014 streamlined the voting process. Now the committee votes on whether or not to support a variety for registration only if the variety doesn’t receive unanimous support from its agronomy, disease and quality evaluation teams.
The committee’s procedures still need some tweaking, Michael Scheffel, national manager of CFIA’s seed section said at the committee’s meeting Feb. 26 in Banff.
Some have called for the wheat recommending process to be more predictable.
“The registration system is really a gatekeeper and there’s going to be winners and there are going to be losers,” Rob Graf, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada wheat breeder based in Lethbridge said at a seed grower meeting in Winnipeg last fall. “And that’s the way it has to be or we don’t need it.”
One hundred and forty groups and individuals responded during the consultation process. The majority (37 per cent) supported keeping the current three options. Only 13 per cent supported scrapping the system.