What do farmers really think about seed royalties?

The West’s general farm organizations have created an online survey to get farmers’ view on cereal seed royalty proposals

Canadian farmers are being asked their opinion about proposed changes to seed royalties for cereals by Western Canada’s three general farm organizations.

The Keystone Agricultural producers (KAP), Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and Alberta Federation of Agriculture, launched the online survey July 15 to measure farmers’ understanding of what’s being proposed and get their views, including on whether farmers should “have oversight into how much is collected and what the funds are used for.”

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Last fall Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency started consulting farmers on two proposals — trailing and end point royalties. Both are intended to collect more money from farmers to be used by private and public plant breeders to produce improved varieties.

But the options raised concerns among some farmers about eliminating their ability to save seed for free, their lack of control of how the royalties would be used, and the potential impact on publicly funded plant breeding.

That prompted some farmers to suggest looking for a third option.

Prairie wheat and barley commissions also worry that increased seed royalties might drive some farmers to request their checkoff on cereals sales used to fund the commissions, including their research programs, be refunded.

A trailing royalty, also called a Seed Variety Use Agreement, would require farmers who purchased certified seed of UPOV ’91 varieties to annually pay a royalty on seed saved to produce another crop.

An end point royalty would be collected on all harvested grain from farm-saved seed of UPOV ’91-protected varieties.

The latter approach was adopted in Australia, where farmers and private seed developers have formed joint companies to fund varietal development, giving farmers some say in the process, in addition to benefiting from improved varieties.

But Canada’s seed industry prefers a trailing royalty saying it’s simpler to administer and doesn’t discourage pedigreed seed use.

“It is crucial that we hear from farmers and producers on the two new proposed models, because consultation with those who are directly affected ultimately leads to better decision-making,” KAP president Bill Campbell said in a news release. Our hope is that producers will take the time to get involved in this process and ensure their needs are met under a new royalty structure.”

– Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator. His article appeared in the July 18, 2019 issue.

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