Saskatchewan Pulse Growers took an unusual step in the late 1990s. They took control of the research and development into new varieties suited to Saskatchewan’s growing conditions.
How? They decided to pay for it themselves, drawing on a one per cent of gross sales checkoff collected from growers. In 1997, the SPG initiated an agreement with the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre to finance the development of new and improved varieties.
Those varieties are available royalty free to Saskatchewan pulse growers. It seems to have been a wise decision on the part of an organization that invests 60 per cent of its annual budget into research and development.
Monitoring by economists Richard Gray and Terry Scott, last updated in 2008, concluded that $1 of producer checkoff invested in research generated more than $31 in returns to the industry, with $20 of that going directly back to producers, the SPG website says. Producers have earned an average of 20 per cent per year return on investment from their checkoff contributions.
Pea yields for varieties grown in the province have increased 40 per cent. Aside from those direct benefits, producer-funded variety research into pulses has contributed to value-added diversification in the province as well as to improved soil health and carbon sequestration.
Not surprisingly, the agreement with the CDC was renewed for another 15 years beginning in 2005.
This research financing model has helped ensure an ongoing drive for improved varieties, which increases the industry’s global competitiveness. But it has also ensured that growers are getting their fair share of the returns from those improvements.
Canada’s wheat industry should be looking at this model carefully as it addresses the growing call for changes that would attract more private-sector varietal development in wheat.
As evidenced at the recent Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting, many farmers would prefer to keep their right to save and plant their own seeds. We see merit in this for more than nostalgic reasons.
The environment in which farmers must operate is constantly changing; there is evidence to suggest it is now changing more rapidly. Seed grown in that environment, even if it is varietally pure, constantly evolves as well. The evolution for hybrid seeds or seeds available only for annual lease, is arbitrary and controlled. They can’t respond to those environmental signals.
Maybe non-public sources of research funds are needed. But farmers would be wise to keep a piece of the action.