A deal that is the first of its kind in Canada is being hailed as a major boost to Canada Prairie Spring Red wheat breeding — and a model for future cereal-breeding efforts.
“From an Albertan perspective, it’s a huge opportunity for us,” said Kent Erickson, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission “We can take a germplasm that would have gone by the wayside and revitalize that.”
Harpinder Randhawa of the Lethbridge Research Centre has the only Canada Prairie Spring Red (CPSR) wheat-breeding program in Western Canada. When Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced the closure of its Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg in 2013, Randhawa collected its CPSR germplasm but was unable to attract funding to use it in a breeding program. So Agriculture Canada put out a proposal for funding — and that led to a $3.4-million ‘4P’ deal with Canterra Seeds and the Alberta Wheat Commission.
The arrangement — 4P stands for public/private/producer partnership — is a win-win, said Dave Hansen, president and CEO of Winnipeg-based Canterra.
“It came about because of the concern for the CPSR program, and where it was going and how it was going to be funded,” he said. “The program is important for Alberta, but also has implications across Western Canada. We’re all quite excited about it and what it can mean for the CPSR breeding program, as well as what it can mean for farmers.”
Smaller wheat classes such as CPSR were frequently ignored in the past because the Canadian Wheat Board spent more time marketing Canadian Western Red Spring wheat, he said.
“The CPSR class, in our viewpoint, has been an undervalued class in the past, and we’re seeing that there’s a market opportunity which has yet to be exploited,” said Hansen.
“With the dissolution of the wheat board, we’re seeing the evolution of cereals with changes in the variety registration system, the introduction of UPOV ’91, and the modernization of plant breeders’ rights. All of these have created a new opportunity for cereals in Western Canada.”
The Team Canada missions have demonstrated that there is a demand in Asia for CPSR wheat, which is well suited to making noodles, said Erickson.
“The quality of CPSR is different and it could work in milling programs abroad,” added Hansen. “We have a market out there that is telling us they are interested in CPSR varieties. With that in mind, we’re wanting to fill that void or capture that opportunity.”
Even though CPSR wheat makes up only 10 per cent of the wheat grown in Canada, 75 per cent of all CPSR is grown in Alberta.
Ottawa is putting nearly $1.2 million into the five-year agreement, with the Alberta Wheat Commission contributing $766,500. It will receive about a quarter of the royalties from any varieties that are developed.
“It depends on how royalties go, whether it’s end point or the seed royalties that we have now,” said Erickson. “Our hope is to put 100 per cent of those dollars right into Harpinder’s program.
“We’re trying to think outside the box and give back. We’ve been advocating that we need to put more money into plant breeding. Agriculture Canada and the government have been declining their investment into the commercialization of varieties. For us, there’s a potential to give all that money back to plant breeding, and that aligns with our strategic priorities and it makes sense.”
As part of the new arrangement, the Alberta Wheat Commission will sit on a management team with Canterra and Agriculture Canada, and take on an advisory role to tell the lab what disease resistance, yield potential, and agronomics are desired by producers.
In addition to its investment, Canterra will also contribute its expertise in seed distribution, field testing, and global marketing. Earlier this month, the company struck a wheat variety licensing agreement with Groupe Limagrain. The world’s fourth-largest seed company also bought a minority share in Canterra, and is creating a new cereal-breeding centre in Saskatoon.
“Because of our linkage to Limagrain, we also bring opportunity for quality testing, which is a very necessary component of any cereal-breeding program,” said Hansen.
He predicted this will be the first of many similar deals that will see the private sector, government, and farm groups working together to see the breeding of new varieties from germplasm developed by government researchers.
“You can’t expect the government will carry everything,” said Hansen. “You start combining all these factors and it makes for a much more logical way to market cereals. You’ll see more of this.”