Banff — There was applause here when plant breeders, seed companies and farmers at the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale heard the Agricultural Growth Act, with its stronger intellectual property rights, was about to receive royal assent.
Immediately after the bill received royal assent Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled a treaty in Parliament to ratify the UPOV 91 Convention (the 1991 Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties), the international standard for plant breeders’ rights (PBR).
Being party to UPOV 91 will encourage more plant breeding in Canada and bring in more plant germplasm, resulting in higher yields and bigger profits for farmers, Ritz said Friday at a separate event celebrating the legislation, at Canterra Seeds in Winnipeg.
Proponents of Ritz’s package of legislative amendments, which will align Canadian PBR with UPOV ’91, hail the legislation as offering opportunities for increased investment and delivery of new varieties both from plant breeders operating in and outside of Canada.
Partners in Innovation, an umbrella group of ag commodity groups backing the amendments, said Friday the new law will ensure farmers have access to “new and improved varieties developed in Canada and internationally.”
“Many Prairie farmers have benefited from private investment in canola, corn and soybeans,” Mike Bast, Manitoba vice-president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, said at the Winnipeg event.
“I’ve seen those benefits firsthand in each of these crops. We now have an opportunity to see similar benefits from new investment in the breeding of wheat, barley and other crops.”
The legislation has the support of all “relevant” farm organizations, Ritz said. The list includes the Canadian Canola Growers Association, Alberta Wheat Commission, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Grain Growers of Canada, Western Canadian Wheat Growers and Cereals Canada.
“Rights and responsibilities”
The legislation will also “further enhance the contribution of Canadian fresh fruit and vegetable growers to healthy diets for Canadian families,” Keith Kuhl, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council, said in Partners in Innovation’s release.
Fruit and vegetable growers, he said, will be able to “access new and innovative crop varieties developed internationally while encouraging domestic plant breeding and the development of Canadian varieties that can compete in international markets.”
The Canadian Seed Trade Association also supports the act, adding Friday it plans to run an outreach and education campaign “to make sure everyone understands their rights and responsibilities” under Ritz’s amendments.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has long opposed the legislation, fearing it will allow seed companies to charge farmers more and restrict farmers from saving grain from their own crops for seed.
“I cannot stress enough that amendments to the plant breeders’ rights act allow for farmers to retain the right to save, clean, and store seed for their own operations,” Ritz said. “There seems to be some confusion around that.”
UPOV’91 will not result in Canadian farmers getting access to more varieties and higher yields, according to Terry Boehm, chair of NFU’s seed and trade committee.
“With increased rights to plant breeders we will only see increased costs to farmers and even greater domination by the giant seed companies that are so inefficient that they need enhanced plant breeders rights to stay in business,” he wrote in an email.
“Farmers will rue the day when they see their so-called privilege diminished over time.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Dan Mazier said in an interview he hopes farmers will get a major say in developing the regulations under the act.
The Manitoba farmers’ group, he said, “feels if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Ritz told reporters farmers and other “industry stakeholders” will be consulted on the regulations.
Among other groups, the Alberta Wheat Commission hailed the bill’s passage, but noted its support to PBR amendments is on three conditions.
Farmers, the commission said Friday, must maintain the ability to use farm-saved seed, and federal government funding of pre-breeding and genetic research must be maintained.
Thirdly, the commission said, the “farmer and public equity stake in Canada’s proprietary genetic material for cereals developed over the past 100 years continues to be recognized.”
— Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator based at Miami, Man. Includes files from Co-operator reporter Shannon VanRaes in Winnipeg, Commodity News Service Canada and AGCanada.com Network staff.