Proposed royalties on farm-saved seed: what AFA wants you to know

iStock_000006354562MediumConsultations have just begun on proposed royalties to be paid by producers for farm-saved seed. Although this topic has been discussed for some time, an AFA Board member says it’s time for Alberta producers to get involved in the discussion to help craft something that works for them.

AFA’s 1st Vice President and seed grower Keith Degenhardt feels that, at the very least, Alberta crop producers should find out what’s being proposed with these new royalty options. More importantly, he says, producers can participate in the discussion at AFA’s Annual General Meeting in January 2019 and help shape the options before it’s too late.

“Although the discussion centers around plant breeders’ rights legislation, part of the issue is that producers will not have as much flexibility as they’ve had in the past,” says Degenhardt.

Degenhardt explains that revisions to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act in 2015 aligned the Act with the 1991 Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91), and ‘farmers’ privilege’ was noted as an exception under the legislation. That means when a producer buys certified seed, the production from that seed can be regrown on their own farm to produce subsequent crops, provided that seed is not resold to other producers.

What’s on the table for royalties

The federal government, in conjunction with the seed industry and the Grains Roundtable, is now considering a royalty on farm-saved seed and, to date, has two options in mind. Under an end-point royalty, producers would pay when they deliver and sell grain. The other option is a trailing royalty where producers sign a contract and pay an annual royalty to plant breeders when using farm-saved seed.

AFA has been part of the discussion on Plant Breeders’ Rights for many years. In December, AFA President Lynn Jacobson and Board Member Humphrey Banack participated in a session on value creation models for cereals research and variety development in Canada. Degenhardt points out that at AFA regional meetings late this year, the reaction to these options was mixed, ranging from understanding to firm dislike.

“We heard one producer say they would rather pay more up front and not have their farmers’ privilege affected,” says Degenhardt. “That may be an option, but we don’t know if that increase is enough funding for breeding companies to reinvest in more and newer varieties.”

To Degenhardt, what’s at stake for the industry is that the current seed research and development model in Canada is at risk of being underfunded. He points out the federal government has indicated that money for investment in new seed varieties is not guaranteed. Producers require new seed varieties to continue to fight diseases, address pest pressures and improve traits that allow for better yields and market access. There’s a cost to that, and these new royalty options are an attempt to pay for that seed development.

“The present model is not raising enough dollars,” says Degenhardt. “Plant breeding is like a lottery, where breeders can make crosses, but they don’t always know which will create a superior line or if it will go to the variety stage. It takes years to develop new varieties – up to eight or 10 years.”

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Producer input urgently needed

Degenhardt recognizes the need to generate more research funding for the plant breeders and keep the Canadian seed industry competitive and producers thriving. Even so, AFA is not certain the two options proposed are the best for producers.

“Producers can say they don’t like these two options and want something else,” Degenhardt explains. “At AFA, we think other methods should be explored with the input of farmers.”

Degenhardt encourages anyone who cares about this issue to attend the AFA Annual General Meeting in Leduc on January 17, 2019, where plant breeders’ rights and the options around creating value for the entire chain will be explored.

AFA President Lynn Jacobson points out in this AFA blog that getting direct input from producers at the AFA AGM is the best way to ensure producers have a say on the issue of royalties for farm-saved seed.

To attend the AFA AGM on January 17, 2019, producers can register here. Anthony Parker, commissioner with the Plant Breeders’ Rights Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be there to explain the farm-saved seed proposal. AFA will develop a position on this issue at the AGM, so it’s important that there is good producer representation to add to the discussion.

“On any issue, you’ll never get everyone agreeing on the same thing,” says Degenhardt. “On this issue, producers have to decide if they support research, and if so, do they want to support one of these models or suggest another model?”

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