Farmers don’t want their research dollars to boost fortunes of big corporations

Head of Western Grains Research Foundation is studying the idea of a farmer-owned 
breeding company, but says any decision is a long way off

Grain producers want their research dollars to benefit them, and not big corporations in the post-single-desk world.

“At what point are we going to stop funding research and selling it off and paying for it again and again,” Rob Brunel asked at the recent Keystone Agricultural Producers annual general meeting.

He said he doesn’t want to see wheat go the way of soybeans, corn and canola — crops now dominated by large biotech companies.

“Wheat is the last major crop left where we can still use our own seed and save our own seed,” he said.

Other producers echoed that concern.

“Grain companies are now marketing our grain and I have to accept that,” said former Canadian Wheat Board director Wilf Harder.

“But it seems to me they always want us to do the research… and they keep the profits.”

There are challenges, conceded Dave Sefton, chairman of the Western Grains Research Foundation.

That organization’s funding formula changed with the end of the single desk, and may change again under Growing Forward 2, he said. In the past, a refundable checkoff to support WGRF was collected on sales of wheat and barley sold through the Canadian Wheat Board. In 2011 it invested $6.3 million into wheat and barley research.

Since the end of the single desk, its checkoff is collected on all sales of wheat and barley sold through licensed facilities under a program administered by the Alberta Barley Commission.

Producers pay 48 cents per tonne of wheat and 56 per tonne of barley. The proceeds support WGRF, the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC).

Serving Prairie farmers will remain the foundation’s goal, he said.

There have been internal discussions — but no decision — on entering the field of variety development, possibly through the formation of a breeding company, Sefton said. Moreover, the organization, currently funded by a transitional checkoff program, would need stable long-term funding for undertaking such an effort, he said.

Although the end of the single desk has seen new players come into the market, not all are interested in variety development, said Sefton, warning a lack of research would also be detrimental to grain producers.

“We need to be good custodians of your dollars, as private farmer investors, to ensure that we retain some ownership of that research,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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