by Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
AgriNews Staff Writer
CANADA — During the end of November and into the beginning of December, the government of Canada hosted consultations in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Edmonton to discuss the potential for a seed royalty program. These proposals would mean changes to the UPOV’91 Plant and Breeders Rights Act. The Seed Synergy partners are a group of six organizations including: the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI), the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA), the Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC) and CropLife Canada. The proposal would implement royalties through one of two ways: the first is through end point royalties and the second trailing contracts. The former is a way for breeders to recover their return on their investments and requires growers to pay based on the production of the crop after delivered to an elevator. Second trailing contracts are fees applied to saved seed that growers hope to use in the future.

The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) website is encouraging growers to take action against this proposal. “Both would be collected on the harvested crop (a per bushel royalty) and the seed industry expects to collect millions of dollars more from farmers every year from these payments. This money would go to seed companies such as Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and DowDupont. The system for charging a royalty on crops harvested from farm saved seed would be developed for wheat first, with the intent of applying it to other cereal crops, pulse crops, and other crop kinds later.”

While the NFU, and some others have expressed their fears in the proposal, the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) tells a different story of innovation for the industry.

“The SVUA will provide producers with accelerated access to improved seed genetics that are essential to remain competitive globally,” said Jeff Reid, general manager of SeCan and board member of CropLife Canada, Cereals Canada and the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance, in the CSTA press release.

“Canadian producers must have choice – in the seed varieties they use and in their participation in a new system,” said Reid, adding that the option for breeders to market their varieties under the SVUA will only exist for varieties protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR ’91). “This puts the farmer in control. If a variety does not demonstrate enough added value to warrant the extra cost, it simply won’t sell.”

The release explains that the Seed Synergy partners have recommended the royalty program be governed by a Seed Variety Use Agreement (SVUA). “The SVUA would allow breeders, if they choose, to set a Seed Variety Use Fee (SFUV) on farm saved seed that reflects an appropriate value for providing an improved variety to the producer,” reads the release.

This would mean growers with farm saved seed outside of the agreement would not be required to pay the royalties. Fees under the agreement however would be set by the breeder or distributor with prices varying “on the value and performance of that particular variety.”

A study cited in the release outlines “$170-million in annual benefits… that increases research investment” It goes on to say that “this could have a positive impact of $340-million for the economy at large.”

Despite the study’s findings, there are many who still believe charging royalties on saved seed goes against the fundamental rights of growers and reduces their ability to save on costs.

“They are promoting an extreme make-over of Canada’s seed regulatory system that would eliminate public oversight and allow corporations to maximize their power and increase their wealth under Canada’s new UPOV ’91 Plant Breeders Rights regime,” says the NFU website.

Instead of the proposed system, the NFU says they would propose, “public funding and farmer-controlled check-off funding to support plant breeding instead.”