More private dol – lars need to be invested in agri – culture research if governments are not willing to step up, a University of Manitoba agribusiness professor told the recent Special Crops Symposium in Winnipeg.
It is hard to get governments and MPs to listen to producers’ need to increase funds to research because, “public research is not a very sexy topic,” Derek Brewin said.
Agricultural research budgets have been continually cut since the early 1990s, Brewin said. While public dollars are an important part of funding, there are other options such as drawing from the private sector.
There are many barriers that prevent private dollars from flowing into research, which need to be addressed in order to increase private-sector participation. “The key to private incentive is profit from the sale of an innovative product protected by a patent,” he said.
“Plant breeding may be the most problematic area in public research,” said Brewin. It is hard to prevent free riders because you can’t stop farmers from saving their seed.
The United Kingdom has found a solution to this. Former prime minister Margret Thatcher wantedto privatize research so she sold off all but three, out of 52 labs, involved with agriculture research. She did this so researchers would be forced to get their income from the market.
In order to make private funding in seed breeding more enticing, seed royalties and producer levies were introduced. To support breeders in this U.K. model there are seed royalties set up. Farmers pay 65 to 100 British pounds per tonne in basic seed royalties. If you save seed you have to pay 36 pounds per tonne, as long as it is not a public variety.
In order to implement prices, anywhere seed is cleaned is where farmers pay. If a farmer self-cleaned their seed, then they would have to sign an affidavit identifying their seed and pay the necessary fees.
The U.K. government still provides money to agricultural research, US$500,000 million is spent each year of public dollars. However, $1.2 billion in private research is being generated under this system.
While a growing demand would increase the role that private companies play in research, there still would be a need for levies.
“The levies do offer a different option because the producers can “own” technology. The flax growers benefited from owning a GMO seed because they could choose to keep it out of the supply chain and the Saskatchewan pulse growers sell their own seed at a lower price in Saskatchewan than they do to competing countries.”
He said it’s easier to collect levies from farmers, who know they will benefit from agricultural research than convincing taxpayers that agricultural research is worth supporting.
– derek brewin