Streamlined variety registration system set to launch in 2016

A streamlined system would allow new varieties to hit the market sooner, 
but less performance testing sparks concerns

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A new variety registration system could be in place and fully operational by next year — if the players in the value chain can agree on doing away with the current three-part system.

“The system needs to be efficient, it needs to be transparent, and it needs to be predictable,” said Erin Armstrong, director of industry and regulatory affairs for Canterra Seeds.

And streamlining the system is the key to that, she said.

Erin Armstrong
Erin Armstrong photo: Supplied

“Our system needs to be able to be sure we can adopt new varieties when we want to,” said Armstrong, who spoke at FarmTech in late January.

“At the end of the day, whatever part of the value chain we’re in, we all want exactly the same thing. We all want a successful and profitable crop sector in Canada, so we need to make sure we have a system that supports that.”

The current three-part variety registration was introduced in 2009. In that system, most crops fall under Part 1, which requires a merit-based evaluation of a new variety’s performance against a check variety. Pre-registration testing is required in Part 2, but the variety’s performance is not evaluated against a check. Part 3 requires only a basic registration package, including a fee and variety details.

World is changing

But “the world is changing and moving very, very quickly on many fronts,” said Armstrong, adding a review was launched by federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in February 2013.

“The goal of doing the review this time around was really so that we can ensure that we’re able to support innovation, competitiveness, market development, and regulatory modernization,” said Armstrong.

Following a “targeted” public opinion survey of the value chain in 2013, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada launched a series of four options in the fall of that year.

The first option was no change to the system.

“We have a relatively new system that was established in 2009 and includes flexibility,” said Armstrong.

Option two involved streamlining the system — keeping the three-part system that’s in place today, but requiring only basic registration for all crop types unless there’s agreement that a crop type should have more stringent registration requirements.

In option three, only basic registration requirements would be in place for all crop types.

“There would still be a requirement for variety registration for the crop types that we’re talking about, but it would just be that basic registration requirement,” said Armstrong. “Any other testing would fall outside of the need of requesting support for registration.”

The final option was no system at all — “no government involvement in variety registration and regulating that process anymore.”

Revamp favoured

And everyone in the value chain had a different idea on how to move forward.

“There was support for all of the options — everything from ‘don’t touch a thing’ to ‘do away with everything,’” said Armstrong. “But most of the comments, in one way or another, supported keeping the system, but making changes.”

What those changes might look like are “a key part” of the ongoing discussion, she said. A proposal came forward in October that outlined a two-part system, one of which would be ‘enhanced’ — essentially Part 1 — and the other ‘basic,’ which includes Part 3’s basic registration requirements.

Part of the holdup in moving forward with this proposal is the concern that doing away with merit-based variety registration could degrade the quality of new Canadian seed varieties.

That fear is unfounded, said Armstrong. With or without a variety registration system, “quality evaluation is going to take place.”

“Nobody wants to put crap out there, nobody wants to release an inferior variety,” she said. “Even if there was no system, testing is going to take place. Every company and every breeder wants to be sure they’re putting out the best new products that they can.

“The industry will make sure that testing will go on.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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