March 1, 2024

Why should farmers invest in new genetics?

There is an urgent need for collective ownership and responsibility for the development of new varieties in the agricultural industry. The burden is not just a burden on seed producers, distribution companies or promoters; It is a challenge that requires commitment from all stakeholders, including farmers.

That was the message delivered by Jeff Jackson at the CrossRoads Crop Conference in Calgary, Alta., in late January. His message came as part of a panel discussion sponsored by Seed World Group on how the seed value chain contributes to the sustainability of agricultural operations. Jackson participated on the panel representing SeedNet, an Alberta-based seed company for which he serves as general manager.

“We need to move away from heavy reliance on government funding and take responsibility for this crucial aspect of agriculture. By doing so, we can ensure stability and continuity regardless of changes in the political landscape or government priorities,” he told the crowd of about 500 people who gathered for the annual event.

It is time for each of us to recognize our role in this equation and approach it with the seriousness it demands. Failure to act could result in the loss of invaluable capacity in the near future, Jackson said.

Joining him on the panel were Sheri Strydhorst (Owner, Sheri’s Ag Consulting), Greg Stamp (Seed Sales Manager, Stamp Seeds), Chelsea Tomlinson (Owner, True Seeds) and Morgan Webb (President, Seed Check). The discussion, moderated by World Seed Canada editor Marc Zienkiewicz emphasized the importance of investing in new genetics to ensure a constant flow of new seed varieties to ensure success for growers.

“We tend to reward and support our equipment suppliers in our purchases if we value their products and what they offer. We encourage our chemical suppliers when we purchase their crop spray products. However, when it comes to plant breeding, I don’t think we have always provided the same level of support,” said Tomlinson, who sits on the board of Alberta Seed Growers and is also a seed grower.

Mother Nature constantly presents us with new challenges, such as wheat midges, drought, pests and resistant weeds, and plant breeders consistently come up with solutions. However, much of the agricultural industry often ignores the importance of her contributions, she noted.

“Think about clubroot-resistant canola; showed up just when we needed it most, saving many of us in northern Alberta from significant losses. This makes me wonder: are we doing enough to encourage and support plant breeders? If we don’t invest in their work or share a portion of our profits, why would they continue to innovate? Will they be there for us in the future if we don’t show our appreciation and support now? These are important questions that deserve serious consideration.”

Strydhorst said she was concerned that the ability to carry out essential trials, such as registration and regional variety trials, was facing significant risk. The public breeding and testing system is strained due to funding uncertainties, she told the crowd.

“It is important that the agricultural industry comes together and advocates for the preservation of this vital component of our variety development process. Simply throwing more money at the problem is not a viable solution. We need to reimagine how we finance these efforts, exploring innovative models that ensure their sustainability,” she said.

Stamp, who sits on the board of Alberta Pulse Growers, said that while grower-funded research and marketing programs (also known as checkoff dollars) contribute to variety development, much of that funding is not directly allocated to breeding programs. competitive breeding that results in new varieties reaching the market.

Instead, it often supports essential behind-the-scenes work, such as addressing complex issues like root rot.

“The checkoff system allows input from a board of directors to prioritize research initiatives, with the aim of increasing the overall efficiency of the industry and benefiting farmers and checkoff payers. Furthermore, the link between certified seed sales and financing for breeders highlights the importance of robust sales in sustaining the system,” he said.

However, discrepancies in purchasing habits among farmers mean that some may contribute more to the system than others, raising questions about its long-term sustainability.

“As farmers, we need to reflect on whether this financing structure is aligned with our long-term interests and supports the continued advancement of our industry. We need to consider how we can collectively ensure adequate support to advance breeding and research initiatives.”

Webb, who in addition to being president of Seed Check Technologies in Leduc, Alta., is also a certified crop inspector, said one of the most surprising aspects that often goes unnoticed is the consequence of purchasing seeds from a neighbor or repeatedly growing seeds saved. without buying new pedigree seeds.

When this happens, the control and traceability mechanisms that guarantee genetic purity cease to exist. This highlights the importance of the pedigree seed system to ensure quality seeds for farmers.

“For example, during a field inspection of a pedigree seed producer’s farm, if I discover traces of an old variety of wheat that should not be present in their current crop, it is a concerning indication of potential cross-contamination or mixing of seeds. Even if the farmer is not aware of it, the risk of inadvertently introducing foreign genetic material into their crops increases with each generation of saved seeds,” he said.

This scenario highlights the critical importance of maintaining genetic purity in seed production. Without proper adherence to pedigree standards and the use of certified seeds, the integrity of the crop’s genetics can be compromised. Cross-pollination in the field and the presence of unintended varieties can have a significant impact on the quality and consistency of the harvest.

The panel also offered farmers some helpful tips to better understand Canada’s seed system and the importance of protecting it.

“Buying seeds from a neighbor is illegal,” Jackson noted. Considering the importance of sustainably financing our breeding programs, this law directly deprives seed promoters of their legitimate royalties. And given that the royalties they currently charge are already insufficient, this only makes the issue even worse.

“I urge everyone to carefully consider the implications of such actions. It is important to respect these laws and support appropriate channels for seed acquisition, ensuring fair compensation for promoters and the continued progress of our agricultural industry.”

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