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Come together?

Seed sector ponders forming a unified voice, but some worry farmers won’t be heard

A meeting set for this summer in Winnipeg could be the scene of a historic vote to reorganize the Canadian seed industry.

Seed Synergy, a plan to unite Canada’s five main seed-related organizations, could be put to a vote in July at the Canadian Seed Growers Association’s (CSGA) 116th annual meeting.

It would see five organizations combine into one single group, with a united voice, including the Canadian Seed Growers Association, the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA), the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI), the Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC), and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA). CropLife Canada, which represents the life science companies that produce and market new varieties and crop protection products, was part of the group, but later opted out. It intends to work with the new organization, if it passes the vote, through a memorandum of understanding.

Outgoing Manitoba Seed Growers Association president Andrew Ayre told the group’s annual meeting, held late last year, he thinks there’s a good chance the proposal will be voted on this summer.

“It’s just a case of getting the details worked out,” he said.

Jonathan Nyborg.
photo: Allan Dawson

Canadian Seed Growers Association president, and New Brunswick seed grower, Jonathan Nyborg told attendees he’s hopeful the vote will happen, but there is a Plan B. A ratification vote could be delayed six months if necessary, he added.

Nyborg said he hopes the CSGA’s board of directors will be able to approve a “target operation model” for the ‘New Seed Organization’ (NSO) in early March.

The next step would be to send out ratification packages by mid-March to the CSGA’s 3,400 members — farmers who produce pedigreed seed.

That would be followed by sending out the final ratification packages in May to CSGA members as well as other members of the Seed Synergy Collaboration.

At least two-thirds of voting members of each of the five organizations will have to vote in favour of the merger for it to happen.

In the meantime, the CSGA will hold a special members’ meeting Feb. 18 in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., in hopes of changing its rules allowing members to vote on the merger without necessarily having to attend the July annual meeting, Nyborg said.

If the merger vote isn’t held in July, the goal is to do it in December, he said.

Long road

Jaiman Chin.
photo: Allan Dawson

The merger process isn’t easy, consultant Jaiman Chin told the Manitoba Seed Growers’ Association (MSGA) meeting. Chin is with Strategy Corp, the firm hired by the Seed Synergy Collaboration, to assist in the process.

While the five organizations have ‘seed’ in common and some overlap in members, they each have different roles and organizational structures.

With about 3,400 members the CSGA, which represents pedigreed seed producers, is the largest. Most of its members are farmers.

In addition to representing seed growers the CSGA has the statutory power to certify pedigreed seed.

The CSTA represents the seed trade, which includes some farmer-seed growers, as well as large, multinational seed companies. It has 130 members.

CSI delivers accreditation and monitoring programs for the Canadian seed industry.

The CSAAC represents seed-testing laboratories.

CPTA supports intellectual property protection in the Canadian seed industry.

Roy Klym.
photo: Allan Dawson

A merger will affect how the MSGA operates. The MSGA is a stand-alone legal entity that will retain all its assets and liabilities if the NSO is created, Roy Klym, a Regina seed grower and member of the merger oversight committee, told the MSGA’s meeting.

However, to be recognized as an NSO chapter the MSGA will have to meet certain criteria, including opening up membership to regional members of the other seed organizations, Chin said. Work is underway on how to do that.

“The feedback we’ve been getting so far is a lot of folks across the branches are very open to looking at changes in membership and allowing the trade in, allowing the analysts in,” Nyborg said.

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MSGA members will automatically be members of the proposed new organization, he said.

“Regional chapters are very much part of the model and have an important role to play in ensuring there is a regional voice on the board of directors,” Chin said.

Voluntary

Membership in the new organization will be open only to those with a direct interest in the seed sector and will be voluntary. As a result, Manitoba seed growers will no longer have to be members of the MSGA to get pedigreed seed certified.

That, and the fact that currently the MSGA is funded by services paid to the CSGA by Manitoba seed growers, raises questions about how the MSGA will be funded if the NSO is created.

Dauphin seed grower Rod Fisher asked Chin if membership in the provincial associations shouldn’t remain mandatory otherwise a few members could end up doing all the work for non-members.

“Membership should be a benefit in its own right,” Chin said earlier in the meeting.

Voluntary membership is an incentive to keep membership fees low and for the new group to provide enough value that those in the seed sector will want to join, he added.

Initially the merger plan called for 11 directors to oversee the proposed organization, but the number has been raised to 15 to ensure representation from across the seed sector, Chin said.

There will be a minimum of two seed grower directors on the NSO board, he said.

Each member of the new group will get one vote. That means, to start, seed growers will make up a large majority, Chin said.

The merger idea was first floated in a brief by the CSGA and CSTA in March 2015, Klym said.

In November 2018 the Seed Synergy Collaboration issued a ‘white paper’ entitled “The Next Generation Seed System in Canada.”

The document lays out three challenges for the seed sector to tackle, Chin said — stimulate innovation, modernize seed regulations and create a single, united seed organization.

One of the ideas for stimulating innovation is to collect more money from farmers through seed royalties on cereal crops. However, so-called “value creation” has encountered a lot of farmer opposition. Some farmers say they don’t want to pay any more than they do now for seed, while others say they might agree to pay more, but only if farmers have control over how the money is invested in variety development.


The ‘New Seed Organization’

The Seed Synergy collaboration’s white paper from Nov. 2018 says the seed industry needs to focus on the following:

  • Update novel product regulations for plant-breeding innovation. (Under Canada’s current regulations all novel plants are subjected to intense scrutiny, even if they aren’t genetically modified organisms. The seed industry sees that as a disincentive to developing new varieties.)
  • Implement a seed variety use agreement system for Identity Preserved protected seeds.
  • Streamline seed requirements and modernize the regulatory framework.
  • Define a new industry model for the seed certification program.
  • Create a ‘single window’ for all seed regulatory and member services.
  • Create a more efficient and effective industry organizational model.

The paper says the result will drive more investment in the seed sector, level the playing field for all members in the value chain, and enhance efficiency of the services provided.

Jaiman Chin, a consultant with Strategy Corp, the firm hired by the Seed Synergy Collaboration, spoke about the principles for a proposed ‘New Seed Organization’ at the Manitoba Seed Growers’ Association’s annual meeting in late 2019.

They are as follows:

  • Maintain broad representation and authority for members.
  • Enhance member experience through a single window for support.
  • Eliminate uncertainty and duplication.
  • Focus services and resources on maximizing value for members.
  • Improve the ability to engage and influence regulators and stakeholders by speaking with a unified voice.
  • Maintain and expand capabilities to deliver on delegated regulatory authorities.
  • Balance seed industry advocacy with service and regulatory mandates.
  • Increase the capacity for professional development across the seed sector.

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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