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Unregistered wheats back on agenda

“We want to open it up for discussion because that exemption from variety registration is available for all other crop kinds, in all others parts of Canada (except the CWB designated area).”

– Michael Scheffel

Earlier this year Western Canada’s wheat industry flatly rejected a federal government proposal to allow farmers to import and grow unregistered wheat varieties.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is consulting the industry about the idea again.

The initial proposal was prompted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s decision to eliminate kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) Aug. 1 as a means of segregating wheats of different classes registered for use in the West.

The consensus among the 12 organizations that rejected the proposal was that without KVD, the wheat industry will have enough trouble preventing unregistered varieties already growing in the West from contaminating wheat shipments. Allowing western farmers to import unregistered wheat seed would just add to the problem.

The Western Grain Elevation Associat ion (WGEA) and Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) continue to strongly oppose the idea. They fear allowing unregistered wheat seed imports will undermine Canada’s reputation for delivering high-quality milling wheat and potentially cost farmers thousands of dollars in damages if shipments contain unregistered varieties.

“We’re very concerned,” said WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich.

“If we allow the unfettered importation of unregistered foreign varieties… then we will increase the volume of unregistered, indistinguishable varieties in (Western) Canada. That will result in a higher amount of misdeclarations in the commercial handling system.”

Costly errors

When the issue was raised at a “seed modernization” meeting between the grain industry and CFIA Oct. 28, in Ottawa, Sobkowich urged the government not to make the change. Canada’s grain industry has not replaced KVD; having farmers “declare” the variety they deliver is the “default” position and it’s not catching all the indistinguishable, unregistered wheats already in the system, he said.

“We should and the government should be putting resources into replacing the KVD system it removed and not opening the border to a larger problem.”

New wheats currently must meet specific end-use and agronomic standards before they can be registered for commercial production. That, and the system’s ability to segregate wheat classes throughout the handling pipeline, is the cornerstone of Canada’s reputation for high quality wheat, said Earl Geddes, the CWB’s vice-president of product development and marketing support.

“Wheat that’s grown 40 miles south of me doesn’t (have that reputation),” Geddes said in a recent interview. “Why is that? It has to do with the grain commission, it has to do with the variety registration system, it has to do with the relationship between the Canadian Wheat Board and farmers and the grain-handling companies and a whole hell of a lot of due diligence.”

More consultation

Ritz now wants a “supplementary consultation” with the industry focusing exclusively on that issue, said Michael Schef fel , CFIA’s national manager of the seed section.

“We want to open it up for discussion because that exemption from variety registration is available for all other crop kinds, in all other parts of Canada (except the CWB designated area),” he said.

Western wheat might be the only crop and region that restricts the importation of unregistered varieties of wheat seed, but it’s for good reason, Geddes said.

“Western Canada is the only place in the world that has the reputation for the best-quality wheat in the world so why do you want to tear it down?” he said.

Some suspect it’s just another way the federal government hopes to weaken and undermine the CWB. Geddes doubts that.

“The guard has changed in Ottawa,” he said. “There’s not as much historical understanding of what goes into the reputation and the profitability that various components of our supply chain bring to wheat growing in Western Canada.”

Faster access

One of the arguments for making the change, according to an earlier CFIA discussion paper, is it would allow farmers faster access to higher-yielding wheats to be used for livestock and ethanol production.

In addition to concerns raised by the CWB and elevator companies, it is unfair to Canadian seed companies, which can’t market unregistered wheats in the West.

“Perhaps it could lead to people just setting up shop in the United States to export unregistered varieties into Canada and avoid the regulations in Canada and avoid some costs,” Scheffel said. “On the other hand, it’s a bit of a safety valve in that if there are not appropriate varieties available in your area you have the option of looking outside the country….”

The consultations will soon begin with the posting of a discussion paper on CFIA’s website. A 75-day comment period will follow ending in mid-January. CFIA will use the comments submitted to draw up recommendations for Ritz to consider. [email protected]

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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