Manitoba farmers should take note of the soybean varieties they’re planting this spring.
More than two dozen will have their registrations cancelled Aug. 1, which could affect crop marketing, says Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development pulse crop specialist Dennis Lange.
The surest way to know is by planting certified seed.
“The way I view soybean seed that’s not registered… is that you really don’t know what you’re buying,” Lange said in an interview April 18.
“Know what you’re buying (to plant). That’s the moral of the story. And with certified seed you know what you’re buying.
“You know what variety you’re growing. Anything else you don’t know.”
By definition in Canada, only seed from registered varieties can be certified.
Certifying seed is a process to document a registered variety’s pedigree.
Deregistered varieties can no longer be referred to by the name they had while registered.
Why it matters: Buyers often want the crops they purchase to be grown from registered varieties. To protect themselves and their buyers, farmers should know if the varieties they grow are registered or not.
It’s illegal under Canadian seed regulations to sell seed of an unregistered or deregistered variety. (The former has not been registered; the latter refers to varieties that were registered but the registrations were cancelled.)
However, it’s not illegal for farmers to grow unregistered or deregistered varieties and to sell the production, (excluding for seed purposes), Wendy Jahn, national manager of Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) Seeds Section, and Canada’s variety registration registrar, wrote in an email.
That said, farmers need to be careful with such production. Many buyers require farmers to sign documents agreeing to only deliver crops produced from registered varieties. If they do otherwise buyers could sue.
The key is not to misdeclare what’s being delivered and to talk with buyers ahead of time, Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, said in an interview last fall regarding other crops.
Under Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) rules farmers who deliver unregistered or cancelled varieties will receive the lowest grade for the intended class, CGC spokesman Remi Gosselin said last fall.
“But there is nothing that prevents elevators from purchasing that grain on spec (specifications), and to pay for the quality value,” he added.
However, Sobkowich warned “more likely than not the price is going to reflect the price for the lowest grade,” but added, “but that’s not necessarily true in all cases.”
One of the pillars of Canada’s grain quality control system, especially for milling wheat, is knowing what farmers are delivering. Wheats in the bulk handling system are segregated by class. It ensures end-users get what they want, while keeping segregation costs down.
If unregistered and/or cancelled varieties get into the wrong bin they have the potential to downgrade not only that bin, but an entire ship, which could result in thousands of dollars in damages, which a farmer might be on the hook for.
That’s the risk of buying common seed, Lange said.
“If you’re buying certified soybean seed you will have no trouble marketing it because the varieties are registered,” he said.
Reasons for cancelling a variety’s registration vary, but most often it’s because sales have declined and new varieties are more popular, Lange said.
It can also be done to protect markets if it’s discovered a variety doesn’t meet customer expectations, or that its presence could undermine the quality of Canadian grain exports.
CFIA provides three years’ public notice before cancelling a registration to allow commercial seed stocks to be flushed from the market in an effort to protect farmers and seed sellers from commercial harm.
Most of the soybean deregistrations occurring Aug. 1 this and next year are for Roundup Ready 2 types. Farmers shouldn’t have any in their possession anyway because they signed agreements not to save Roundup Ready 2 soybean seed. If they do there’s a risk the variety owner could take legal action resulting in a financial penalty for breaching plant breeders’ rights regulations.
The situation with Roundup Ready 1 (RR1) soybean seed is more opaque. When the patent expired on the herbicide tolerance trait in RR 1 varieties in 2011, a limited amount of seed was legally obtained by farmers, allowing them to save it and grow it on their own farms.
There are also some RR1 varieties farmers can still buy, but in most cases they can’t save the seed, Lorne Hadley, director of intellectual property protection at Seeds Canada, said in an interview last fall.
Variety registration and breeders’ rights are separate matters, but each has an impact on how farmers handle the seed and subsequent production.
Farmers can grow unregistered and deregistered seed legally but can’t sell it for seed. They can sell the crop, but should, and if they have agreed to deliver only registered varieties, must inform buyers when it’s not.
Under breeders’ rights, farmers can save seed from their production to seed again so long as the seed owner allows it and the farmer hasn’t signed an agreement not to save seed.