There was applause here when plant breeders, seed companies and farmers at the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale heard the Agricultural Growth Act with its stronger intellectual property rights was about to receive royal assent.
Immediately following the bill becoming law last week, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled a treaty in Parliament to ratify the UPOV ’91 Convention — the international standard for plant breeders’ rights. Being party to the UPOV ’91 will encourage more plant breeding in Canada and bring in more plant germplasm, resulting in higher yields and bigger profits for farmers, Ritz said at an event celebrating the legislation held at Canterra Seeds in Winnipeg.
“Many Prairie farmers have benefited from private investment in canola, corn and soybeans,” Mike Bast, Manitoba vice-president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association said at the event. “I’ve seen those benefits first hand in each of these crops. We now have an opportunity to see similar benefits from new investment in the breeding of wheat, barley and other crops.”
The legislation has the support of all “relevant” farm organizations, Ritz said. The list includes the Canadian Canola Growers Association, Alberta Wheat Commission, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Grain Growers of Canada, Western Canadian Wheat Growers and Cereals Canada.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association also supports the act.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has long opposed the legislation fearing it will allow seed companies to charge farmers more and restrict farmers from saving grain from their own crops for seed.
“I cannot stress enough that amendments to the plant breeders’ rights act allow for farmers to retain the right to save, clean, and store seed for their own operations,” Ritz said. “There seems to be some confusion around that.”
UPOV ’91 will not result in Canadian farmers getting access to more varieties and higher yields, according to Terry Boehm, chair of NFU’s Seed and Trade Committee.
“With increased rights to plant breeders we will only see increased costs to farmers and even greater domination by the giant seed companies that are so inefficient that they need enhanced plant breeders’ rights to stay in business,” he wrote in an email. “Farmers will rue the day when they see their so-called privilege diminished over time.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Dan Mazier said in an interview he hopes farmers will get a major say in developing the regulations under the act.
“KAP feels if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,” he said.
Concerns were raised about the lack of clarity around the legislation during KAP’s annual meeting. The impact of the law is expected to become clearer as the regulations connected to it are developed.
Ritz told reporters farmers and other “industry stakeholders” will be consulted on the regulations.
The act also includes changes to the cash advance program, making it more “flexible and user friendly,” Ritz said.