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Federal consultation on new seed royalties will stretch into next year

Public meetings are over but smaller-scale discussions will continue in the coming weeks and months

After four public meetings with farmers and the seed industry, a federal consultation on proposals for changes to plant breeders’ rights is moving to individual discussions and group sessions.

Following the last public meeting Nov. 30 in Ottawa, officials from Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will spend time assessing all the input they’ve gathered and holding discussions with participants in the consultations before releasing their conclusions, possibly in the spring.

With a federal election expected in August, whatever plan they come up with will likely be on hold until after Parliament returns following the vote.

A hot-button issue in the consultations was a seed-industry proposal for a royalty on seeds farmers save for planting. The National Farmers Union blasted that idea because it would cost farmers millions of dollars a year and give governments an excuse to reduce public research spending.

However, Todd Hyra, president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and a SeCan employee, said the royalty would only apply on varieties introduced since the latest changes to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) signed in February 2015.

The impact would fall mostly on grain and pulse growers because most other crops use registered seeds. SeCan and its partners in the Seed Synergy Project support the royalty on saved seeds as part of their Seed Variety Use Agreement (SVUA) proposal.

Groups such as Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers want to keep an open mind to where the discussions might lead in recognition of their members’ concerns about additional costs but also the need for increased research on new crop varieties.

“Why wouldn’t farmers want both public and private breeders to develop new wheat varieties to provide more technology and choice?” Gunter Jochum, a Manitoba director of the Wheat Growers said. “We’re letting the consultation process run its course before stating a preferred choice.”

GFO vice-president Crosby Devitt said his group wants to evaluate “what’s in front of us. We need more investment in research; the question is how do we secure it?”

Hyra said there is widespread agreement on the need to maintain public research and to attract additional funding for crop research. SeCan and its partners developed the SVUA to address “the serious need for increased investment in plant breeding to support Canada’s cereal, pulse and specialty crop producers. Variety development research for these crops is significantly under-resourced when we consider the long-term view with increased global competition and the rapid pace of new technology innovations.

“In cereals, for example, we are missing out on the potential to generate $170 million in annual benefits for producers, and $340 million for the economy at large with a value creation model, such as an SVUA, that increases investments for research.”

The benefit for farmers would be “accelerated future access to better varieties adapted to a broader range of growing conditions,” the seed sector said. “The SVUA system will position you to be more competitive in international markets. Producers will still have a ‘Farmer’s Privilege’ to keep farm-saved seed, but will need to pay a Seed Variety Use Fee (SVUF) to the plant breeder for use of the seed genetics marketed under an SVUA.”

An SVUA will only be used on farm-saved seed of protected varieties, he said. Many of the current varieties in use today won’t have an SVUA.

Currently the use of certified seed is as low as 12 per cent of planted acres for some crops.

There’s more information on the SVUA proposals at seedvaluecreation.ca.

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