Seed royalties make farmers nervous

The federal government is proposing changes that would force farmers to pay royalties on all the seed they buy and allows companies marketing new varieties to charge as much as they want.

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The federal government is proposing changes that would force farmers to pay royalties on all the seed they buy and allows companies marketing new varieties to charge as much as they want.

Farmers are objecting during the period of consultations, so one of the counter-proposals is to form an advisory group of farmers to manage the proposed royalties system.

“That’s something we’ve been giving a lot of thought to as a potential mechanism for that ongoing producer involvement,” said Anthony Parker, commissioner of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Plant Breeders’ Rights office.

Parker was in Brandon in late January to inform producers about the potential changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act.

A coalition of seed industry groups known as Seed Synergy says creating additional value in the Canadian seed sector will lead to greater levels of investment in seed breeding programs. They’ve been pushing for changes, and two proposals have been discussed at meetings across Canada:

  • collecting royalties when farmers sell and deliver grain.
  • charging an annual fee to cover farm-saved seed.

Parker said the proposal requires farmers to be members of the Plant Breeder’s Rights advisory committee. If changes to the royalty system move forward, the committee could be a tool for producers to have input and oversight.

“That we bring (in) farmers and say, ‘let’s monitor how is the performance of the system working, is it achieving the desired outcomes?” Parker said.

“Is it accomplishing the balance that we’re looking for, where breeders are benefitting but also producers are benefitting (for better crop varieties).”

A range of $1 to $3 per tonne of grain produced, or per acre or tonne of seed used, have been suggested as possible royalty rates. Some producers believe the rate should be capped, but the seed companies oppose caps.

“The problem with a maximum is what happens if someone brings forward a trait that has significantly more value?” said Todd Hyra, western business manager with Secan, the largest supplier of certified seed to Canadian farmers.

“I wouldn’t want to have somebody hamstrung.”

However, Hyra does support other ways to limit royalty payments, such as basing them on acres rather than on tonnes of production or amount of planted seed.

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