Go slow on variety registration changes

Rob Brunel_ADawson_cmy_opt.jpegThe Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) doesn’t want any radical changes to how Canada registers new crop varieties, especially milling wheat.

“We’re really just looking for some tweaking of the registration process,” said Ste. Rose du Lac farmer Rob Brunel who chairs KAP’s Grain, Oilseeds and Pulse Committee. “We feel there are ways to improve upon it, but really feel they don’t need to be any drastic changes.”

The committee met Oct. 29 in Winnipeg to discuss the registration process currently under review by the federal government. The public has until Nov. 30 to express its views. KAP is preparing its submission.

Some farmers and seed companies say the current registration system delays the introduction of new, higher-yielding varieties. But others maintain the current approach is an integral part of the quality control system responsible for Canada’s reputation as a supplier of high-quality wheat.

“As an industry we have to decide what our Canadian wheat brand is worth, and if it is worth saving, and how can we do so?” Brunel said.

In his view, recent changes to Australia’s variety registration system cost that country its reputation for selling high-quality wheat.

Currently new milling wheat varieties in Western Canada undergo at least two years, and usually three, of independent pre-registration testing. During that time agronomic, disease susceptibility and milling and baking data is collected. If the wheat developer believes the new variety has merit he or she will present the data to a committee of experts, including farmers, who vote whether it should be recommended for registration.

Critics say the process is time consuming and potentially subjective. Supporters counter it takes time to gather data and that the process is transparent and fair, protecting farmers and end-users from poor varieties.

The registration system has recently undergone a lot of changes and not enough time has passed to assess the impact, Brunel said.

For example in 2008 kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) was dropped as a prerequisite for registering new milling wheats in Western Canada. Ending KVD was supposed to make it easier for wheat breeders to develop higher-yielding varieties.

In 2009, the federal government implemented a new “flexible” three-tiered crop registration system. Now if those representing a specific crop value chain agree they can drop the current requirement for pre-registration merit assessments.

The introduction of an open market for wheat Aug. 1, 2012 has also resulted in more flexibility, Brunel said. Now grain buyers and farmers are free to negotiate wheat prices, no matter what class the variety is in. As a result some wheats that are higher yielding, but lower in milling quality, are as economically attractive has high-quality, lower-yielding milling wheat.

“There are a lot more options in the open system we have now, but hard red spring wheat has certain qualities that some want and we don’t want to jeopardize the quality of that class,” Brunel said.

Some observers say Canada can keep its reputation for producing high-quality wheat, while allowing farmers to grow lower-quality, higher-yielding varieties. The key is a registration system that assigns new wheats to the right class and grain-handling and transportation system that keeps them segregated.

A discussion paper prepared by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Canadian Grain Commission lays out four options for the registration system.

Option 1: The status quo.

Option 2: Streamline the process by requiring all crops meet minimum registration requirements with the option for some crops to have merit assessment through an independent assessment process.

Option 3: Streamline the process by maintaining a minimum level of federal government oversight similar to the current Part III and eliminate any merit assessment or performance data.

Option 4: Withdraw federal government oversight allowing the industry or third parties to fill the role. Crop purity standards would still be required and overseen by CFIA.

Find the discussion paper at: <http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/public-opinion-and-consultations/crop-variety-registration-engagement/crop-variety-registration-in-canada-issues-and-options/?id=1374783569676>.

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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