Two new high-yielding milling wheats coming to market this fall won’t be subject to variety use agreements (VUA).
AAC Wheatland VB and AAC Starbuck VB are much anticipated because they’re seen as the next big thing, making their inclusion in the VUA trial a brewing controversy.
Dropping the varieties is accompanied by a new agreement by the three Prairie wheat commissions, through their Canada Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC), to invest money in new areas to help bring wheat varieties to western Canadian farmers.
“It allows us to move forward in a more collaborative relationship with the commissions rather than essentially fighting about the VUA (pilot launched Feb. 25),” Todd Hyra, SeCan’s business manager for Western Canada, said in an interview Sept. 29.
“We remain committed to the VUA in terms of an avenue for generating revenue for breeding programs. The only real change to the (VUA) pilot is the fact that these two products (Wheatland and Starbuck) we were intending to put them in, and now we’re not.”
Why it matters: A proposal to introduce end-point or trailing royalties for wheat, other cereals and pulses to increase funding for public and private breeders has raised concerns among many western Canadian farmers about how private companies would use farmers’ money.
The commissions collect checkoffs from wheat farmers to invest in publicly funded wheat variety development and related research, including agronomy.
“It’s in the commissions’ interest… to be sure that we see long-term sustainable funding for the publicly developed (wheat variety) system,” Harvey Brooks, CWRC president and general manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, said in an interview Sept. 29.
“This approach, we think, will go a long way to enhancing that. It’s seen as a supplement and complement to our core breeding agreements.”
The group already works with Agriculture Canada and the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan and with the University of Alberta and University of Manitoba.
How much money and how it will be spent is still being worked out, Brooks said. However, he agreed with Hyra that restoring wheat variety testing to the Regina Plains area, abandoned in 2012 with the closing of AAFC’s Regina research station, is an example of how some of the money could be spent.
“We’re going to be working hard over the next while to make sure that we develop a framework and projects that make sense for the areas that we preliminarily identified,” Brooks said. “We’ll announce those when we have more concrete information on them.”
Hyra said while farmers felt they had already paid to develop Wheatland and Starbuck through checkoffs, they only partially paid part of the cost.
Regardless, the issue of collecting royalties on the varieties was driving a wedge between stakeholders, Hyra said.
“It was straining relationships and hampering productivity,” he said.”This is a reset for us to move forward in a collaborative way that will benefit all western Canadian farmers and I feel will benefit the overall industry.”
He said removing this irritant will allow “constructive discussions” regarding the VUA system, rather than having them derailed by “immediate push back” on the two varieties.
“It’s really only the removal of two and the rest of the products will remain in and the commitment to the program from a VUA perspective also remains.”
The commissions had no say in the VUA pilot, Brooks said, making the inclusion of the publicly developed varieties a sticking point.
“To put publicly developed varieties in there without a discussion about how they were different than private varieties and not having a good discussion with the broader, general producer community was a challenge,” Brooks said.
“We were hearing from producers that they wanted to see something different and I don’t think they were alone in that. This is a good direction. Producers have shown since 1995 I think — 35 years of producers putting their own money into this — their willingness to do that. This is just a continuation of that.”
Although checkoffs aren’t going up, the commissions have money to invest “in good spends to support variety development,” Brooks said.
“This will be new money to this effort for sure and new resources that in a way tries to best support areas of the varietal-development system that need the most shoring up short run and long run.”
Helping to fund public plant breeding through farmer checkoffs has worked, Brooks added.
“In terms of providing choice and variety and competition in the seed market it has a good, winning story for producers,” he said. “We want to keep that going. We enjoy the partnership with AAFC and the universities in terms of developing the varieties. We understand producers, given their continuous investment, have a certain view of how they would like to see the varieties released.”
But private breeders need to be funded too and one way is through the VUA, Hyra said.
“With this arrangement we have been able to move in a different way, but the VUA we’re still very committed to it.”
The Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA) and the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) launched the VUA as a pilot project earlier this year to demonstrate its benefits. It’s a ‘trailing’ royalty created through contract law. Farmers who want to buy varieties covered by the VUA agree to pay a fee if they plant saved seed.
The five Prairie wheat and barley commissions — Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (now the Manitoba Crop Alliance), Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission, Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), and Alberta Barley — said the pilot project undermined consultations on funding options with AAFC.
MWBGA chair Fred Greig said a VUA wouldn’t be as much of a concern on varieties developed by private companies. Farmers could decide whether they want to grow them and pay a fee to plant saved seed.
“A big concern is, is there going to be a clear path, especially on farmer-funded varieties… so we can guarantee that we are not getting charged twice, and if we are at least it’s going back to the appropriate breeder and not someplace else,” Greig said in an interview Feb. 27.
Hyra said back then there’s no risk of paying twice because farmers’ contributions fall short of covering the whole cost.
The following varieties are under the VUA currently: CS Daybreak, CS Accelerate and ND17009GT.
CS Daybreak, a Canada Western Red Spring wheat and CS Accelerate a Canada Prairie Red Spring wheat, were both developed by Limagrain Cereals Research Canada.
ND17009GT is a Roundup Ready 1 soybean developed at North Dakota State University.