Letters: Seed growers should be wary of merger

In response to Allan Dawson’s seed sector merger story:

Seed growers should pay attention to the Aug. 27 vote to merge the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) with four other organizations, including the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA).

The vote on the most important potential change in 100 years is during farmers’ busy harvest season.

The propaganda sent to growers from the CSGA board and provincial associations listing merger attributes excludes the cons, like what growers lose.

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While growers make up 90 per cent of the five merging associations, only one of the 15 board positions (eventually dropping to 11) is guaranteed to be a seed grower. Seven regional seats are open to the whole seed industry. Positions are also appointed from a vetted list of potential industry candidates, not just growers.

Provincial seed associations won’t be the same. They will have to accept any member of the seed industry/value chain, including big business, researchers, and trade. Membership fees will almost certainly increase when “grandfathered” fees end in two years.

Increases will likely be substantial because CSTA members, which include large multinationals are currently pay- ing in the tens of thousands of dollars — insignificant to multibillion-dollar firms, but huge to most seed growers. Membership fees could be the least of growers’ worries, if service fees increase to cover Seeds Canada’s revenue shortfalls. The cost of enforcing breeders’ rights, covered now by members of the Canadian Plant Technology Agency, could fall to Seeds Canada. Everyone will be paying for this if deemed necessary.

What about the Canadian Seed Institute’s third-party oversight when it’s part of Seeds Canada? CSGA maintained that outside oversight was needed to ensure a credible pedigreed seed system.

Growers can opt out of Seeds Canada and still grow pedigreed seed. However, this means forsaking your right to vote or be a board member, transferring more power to the remaining large players. The grower’s voice will diminish over time.

In the end, commercial farmers and ranchers who buy seed will carry the cost, while those at the top reap the benefits. Control will shift. It may take years, but it will happen, as happened with the current canola model.

The promised simplified single- window data collection system is supposedly great, but not if it falls into the wrong hands.

Bullying tactics saying, “It’s now or never,” and, “We’ve gone too far and spent too much to go back,” are not good enough reasons to push this through.

CSGA will remain strong, independent, and financially secure on its own. It’s been progressive, modernizing and improving services. There’s no reason why CSGA couldn’t work with the others, or expand its future mandate, whether the others amalgamate or not.

Seed growers, along with all the farmers and ranchers who buy and plant the seed, are the backbone of the seed industry.

CSGA is the only group currently in the Canada Seeds Act. We give up this important privilege by amalgamating.

There seems to be more to lose than gain for seed growers. Other groups have everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose. We’re told negotiators did their very best, yet it seems what was decided two or more years ago hasn’t changed.

A small, elite group made a decision to proceed prior to the discussions at AGMs and special meetings and nothing has changed since.

Every grower should verify what I’ve written is true, and then vote against the amalgamation. The history and strength of CSGA has been built up over a century. If growers vote to merge, it will all be erased. It will forever change the seed industry, and our children and grandchildren will wonder how we ever let this happen.

Heather Kerschbaumer
Fairview, Alta.

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