“This appears to be a unilateral decision on the part of government to impose things without any in-depth thought as to the cost/benefit of it.”
– DALE ADOLPHE
The federal government’s plan to stop certifying pedigreed seed in five years will add cost and as well as undermine the integrity of pedigreed seed, seed growers warn.
Since seed is the foundation of all agricultural production – food, feed, fibre and fuel – all of Canadian agriculture will be affected, Dale Adolphe, executive of the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) says.
“This appears to be a unilateral decision on the part of government to impose things without any in-depth thought as to the cost/benefit of it,” Adolphe said in an interview July 15.
The CSGA will lobby Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and other cabinet members to reconsider the change, Adolphe said.
For more than 100 years Ottawa has provided independent, third-party certification that Canadian pedigreed seed meets specific purity.
That’s going to change, Mike Scheffel, national manager of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) seed section, told the joint annual meeting of the CSGA and Canadian Seed Trade Association in Kelowna July 7-9. CFIA plans to shift seed certification within five years to the CSGA or another body if the CSGA is unwilling to do it.
The news shocked CSGA members and its board, Adolphe said. Going back to the early 1900s, seed growers and the federal government have worked closely on the pedigreed seed system and subsequent changes.
The CSGA is part of a government-industry working group reviewing seed certification and was looking at ways to make the system more efficient and reduce CFIA’s costs.
A month and a half ago CFIA told the committee it needs to cut its seed certification budget for 2011-12 by $428,000. But then it announced it’s getting out of seed certification altogether – a decision that the CSGA was not consulted about, Adolphe said.
In the interim, CFIA also announced it’s going to full cost recovery, which will double what growers now pay CFIA to certify a crop. In Manitoba CFIA’s fee will jump to $1.50 an acre from 75 cents.
It might not sound like a lot, but it will add to that gap that already exists between the price of certified and common seed, Adolphe said.
“It just keeps adding to that spread between what we want to offer and what a guy will go to the bin for,” said Craig Riddell, president of the Manitoba Seed Growers Association.
CFIA says it spends $3.2 million a year certifying 1.1 million acres of seed for all crops, except potatoes.
“Three million seems to be a paltry cost,” Riddell said. “The fact that we’re arguing over that is ridiculous.
“I think the Canadian taxpayer is getting very good value for the service CFIA
is providing for that many acres of seed for that little cost.”
Both Riddell and Adolphe agree having seed certified by a government agency – CFIA – gives buyers, especially foreign ones, confidence in Canada’s seed system.
“The fact of the matter is there are some members of the public that would not trust self-inspection,” Adolphe said. “There’s a lot of credibility added to the total system by having that independent, third-party verification delivered by government.”
Cutting seed inspection could hurt the agency’s effectiveness in other areas of inspection such as fertilizers and pesticides by not having the “critical mass” of staff, Adolphe said.
“What kind of slippery slope are we going down?”
The CSGA is willing to look at alternatives for certifying seed for minor crops or pedigreed seed produced in more isolated regions, but wants CFIA to continue doing the lion’s share, Adolphe said.
It’s politicians, not CFIA managers who are pushing for the change, Adolphe said.
“We want to have this dialogue with the minister (of Agriculture) and MPs so they have a clearer understanding and see if they continue on with the same policy or if they are prepared to back off.
“They need to know the implications and ramifications for these kinds of decisions.”
Michael Scheffel, national manager of CFIA’s seed section was not available for comment before press time. [email protected]