The Keystone Agricultural Producer’s (KAP) policy on how farmers should fund new cereal variety development remains a work in progress.
The seed industry has proposed two models — trailing and end point royalties. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has been consulting farmers about them. But KAP delegates attending their 35th annual meeting in Winnipeg Feb. 6 endorsed neither.
Instead, they passed a resolution for KAP to lobby the Government of Canada to further research a “point of delivery checkoff system.”
Why it matters: Farmers are being asked to contribute more to cereal breeding through royalties, but they’re worried about the extra cost and possibly losing publicly developed cereal varieties seen as important competition to private seed companies. That’s prompting farmers to look at other funding options.
The seed industry says either one of its options will attract more private investment in variety development. But KAP’s Grain, Oilseeds and Pulse (GOP) committee says the proposal lacks detail, including the potential cost to farmers.
The committee was instructed by KAP members at their November advisory council meeting to analyze the proposals and present recommendations for discussion at KAP’s annual meeting. Committee chair Mitch Janssens delivered the committee’s ‘principles’ that need to be part of whatever system is implemented:
- AAFC must continue to develop and commercialize new varieties.
- Government funding of AAFC research and variety development must not be eroded.
- The system must be transparent and “involve considerable input from farmers.”
- It must make farmers competitive and be administered equitably.
- Farmers must be able to save and plant their own seed.
“While this lacks conclusion, no clear simple or clear conclusion seems apparent at this time,” Janssens said.
KAP isn’t the only group not to endorse the royalty options. In a Jan. 23 news release the wheat and barley commissions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and the Prairie Oat Growers Association, said farmer consensus in favour of either option is unlikely.
Following Janssens’ presentation, delegates passed a resolution calling on KAP to lobby the Government of Canada to further research a point of delivery checkoff system in place of trailing or end point royalties.
France has a similar system that funds private and public plant breeding, Janssens said after moving the resolution.
“I’ve been told it has limited the private investment, but has not excluded private investment,” he said. “It’s not something we’d want to jump in with both feet, but we’d want to get more information on it.”
Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay said he was conflicted because he prefers a trailing royalty, which would apply to farm-saved seed.
“I believe a trailing royalty is easier, cheaper and probably a fairer way to deal with the royalty system and advance research,” he said.
However, the resolution will help KAP develop a policy on cereal funding, he added.
Minto farmer David Rourke said he was told by the head of an Australian seed company AAFC’s wheat-breeding program is among the top three or four in the world.
“What I don’t want to see in the future is we lose that option to have a competitive public system,” he said. “It has served us very well. This resolution may not tackle that completely but it keeps the discussion going… and making sure that they know we are not happy with just the value creation, seed synergy, at this point.”
Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA) general manager Pam de Rocquigny said she wanted more clarity about the resolution’s potential impact on checkoff-funded commodity groups, like the MWBGA.
Janssens said the intent is to have an option giving farmers more say in what they contribute to variety development, instead of only the private seed companies deciding.
In an interview later, de Rocquigny said additional mandatory royalties or levies could hurt cereal associations that rely on checkoffs collected from farmers.
“We’re funding beyond variety development,” she said. “We’re also funding research, on-farm trials, we’re funding market development, agronomy — those types of things, which is a whole package. We don’t want to see a system that would negatively impact or cause collateral damage in terms of having a decrease in funding because producers are asking for (checkoff) refunds.”
Meanwhile, other cereal development models are bubbling up. The Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) is suggesting farmers partner directly with public and private breeders through an existing, or new farmer-controlled entity. That way farmers would determine how much they invest, as well as ensuring their money goes to its intended purpose and earns a return on their investment, which would be reinvested in more variety development.
AFA has proposed that farmer entity be funded by levies deducted from the sale of delivered grain — a ‘point of delivery checkoff’ — which KAP’s resolution refers to.
University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist Richard Gray says farmers should consider an end point levy and farmer-breeder partnerships. They work well in Australia, he said.
The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition, formed by the wheat commissions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, to co-ordinate and streamline regional and national wheat research, could be that ‘farmer entity,’ Gray said in a recent interview.
It’s not something the coalition has discussed, its president Harvey Brooks, who is also general manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, said in an interview Feb. 8. He said any new role for the coalition would require the approval of its founding members — the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, Alberta Wheat Commission and MWBGA.
There would have to be a strong consensus among wheat farmers too, he added.
KAP has also discussed the AFA’s concept, KAP president Bill Campbell said in an interview Feb. 6. Asked if KAP might endorse it he replied: “Our grains and oilseeds committee has presented six points that it would like to see addressed. I think we will follow those points and see where that leads. I don’t think Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s two suggestions address all of those concerns.”