Fraser: Feds still undecided on future of seed royalties

Either system will cost farmers, but proponents say the return will be worth it

The federal government has still not made a decision whether to allow royalties on farm-saved seed in Canada, saying no decision has been made on “potential ways to grow seed research and development.”

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) started engaging cereal and grain growers “to explore ways to improve their profitability and competitiveness in the global marketplace” in 2018 through a series of meetings across the country.

Consultations yielded mixed results, with some farmers supporting a new royalty collection system while others were strongly opposed.

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Surveys conducted last year by the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA), the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), and the Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba (KAP), found a majority of farmers were not in favour of either of the two options put forward by the Liberal government, which would see farm-saved seed be subject to either end point royalties or trailing royalty contracts.

End point royalties would be collected on all commercial sales of royalty-eligible seed varieties. Trailing royalty contracts would allow farmers to replant farm-saved seed for a predetermined fee.

In a statement, the federal government said, “During the consultations, producers expressed a desire to explore and gather information on approaches to value creation for Canada’s cereals sector.”

While there was some expectation AAFC would continue consultations after the recent federal election, that has yet to be the case. Plans for an online survey conducted by AAFC were initially scheduled for spring 2019, but have not yet moved forward.

Now, it appears Ottawa would prefer to hear suggestions, saying in a statement that AAFC is “supportive of industry-led projects that are underway and is listening to stakeholders as it determines next steps.”

It is also completing an economic analysis of the costs and benefits of seed. That long-awaited report is expected to be released to the public in March at the Canadian Crops Convention being held in Vancouver. Many consider it to be key to any decision-making going forward, as it is anticipated to consider how much revenue generation and impact a new system would have on farm incomes.

Grain Growers of Canada chair Jeff Nielsen last met with officials on the matter in December.

“We’re not recommending one of the two options over the other at this time, but we do recognize the fact that there is more need for more work to be done,” he said. “We’re starting the ball rolling that way to try to keep the discussion going.”

His organization is finalizing a list of four guiding principles to be used as the process moves forward.

Conservative Party of Canada Agriculture Critic John Barlow says there was never an adequate consultation period with farmers to ensure their voices were heard.

“The ball is in their court. You know, whatever decision is made. We must protect the rights of farmers, but also ensure that we have a robust biotech industry in Canada. But certainly speaking with producers, there was just simply not enough consultation done by the Liberal government,” he said. “I think having adequate consultation period for farmers to ensure their voices are heard is essential. And I don’t think we should proceed with a system that is opposed by farms, farmers and farm groups.”

“Open up the discussion to ideas and suggestions from not only experts in the biotech industry, but also farmers who are dealing with this on the ground.”

Producer groups continue to say they want Agriculture Canada to help produce market-ready varieties for common crops like spring wheat, durum and barley. Western Canadian wheat growers contributed about $20 million over five years to Ag Canada’s wheat- and durum-breeding programs, and another funding agreement is currently being negotiated.

— With files from the Western Producer

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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