Winnipeg-based Ag Canada wheat breeder goes private

Stephen Fox 2_ADawson__opt.jpegStephen Fox, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher and developer of such popular hard red spring wheat varieties as Kane and AC Unity, is leaving the federal government to work in the private sector.

Fox will join DL Seeds next month, as a canola breeder at its Winnipeg facility.

“It will be an exciting change and I don’t have to disrupt the family by having to go somewhere else,” said Fox, who started his AAFC career at the Winnipeg Cereal Research Centre in 2001.

The centre is slated to close next year, with most of its plant breeders moving to the Brandon Research Centre and some to Morden. Some research and technical staff will lose their jobs.

Not having plant breeders, plant pathologists and other researchers under the same roof will be disruptive and staff cuts mean researchers can’t accomplish as much, despite having new biotechnology tools, Fox said.

“There’s a little elephant in the room that people often ignore,” he said. “We don’t have the people to do these things.”

While many farmers might not know his name, most know his wheat varieties. Fox said he is proudest of his two varieties AC Unity VB and Kane. AC Unity was the first midge-tolerant wheat registered in Canada and is one of the most popular hard red spring wheats grown in Western Canada. Kane was once the most popular wheat grown in Manitoba and accounted for 14 per cent of the province’s 2.2 million acres of hard red spring wheat sown last year.

“You have a lot of hope for all of them but clearly some do better than others,” he said.

In 2012, Manitoba farmers grew almost 400,000 acres of wheat varieties developed by Fox, representing 17 per cent of total hard wheat plantings.

In addition to AC Unity and Kane, Fox has also registered Somerset, AC Waskada, AC Fieldstar, AC Shaw, AC Vesper, Cardale and AAC Prevail. He also has four wheats in their third and final year of registration trials. He expects at least one will be recommended for registration in 2014.

Fox said he has high hopes for Cardale, one of his newer varieties to hit the market, and said his latest release, AAC Prevail, an awnless, midge-resistant variety, that could also be popular in Saskatchewan.

“It yields like Unity, but has better (stronger) straw,” he said. “That was one thing I was trying to fix.”

As a publicly funded breeder Fox said the emphasis was not just developing higher-yielding wheat, but trying to include disease and insect resistance. Achieving that not only saves farmers money but also provides society with environmental benefits, he said.

There’s lots of talk about encouraging private companies to do more wheat breeding. Fox said if that’s what the government wants it needs to change Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation so companies can get a return on their investment. If companies charge too much for their seed farmers won’t buy it, he added.

About the author

Reporter

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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