By Tim Kalinowski
Farmers are being asked to take part in a seed royalty survey which could have larger repercussions for agricultural research in Canada for many years to come. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency held a series of public meetings over the winter to gauge feedback on two potential new models of collecting royalties on saved seed, but placed the initiative on hold after receiving push-back from producer groups.
Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) president Todd Lewis says the federal government dropped the two royalty models, (one which proposed royalties on seed purchase which would be channelled toward ag research, or the other to be taken off when producers sell their crops for the same purpose), in farmers’ laps without any input or consultation, simply asking which they would like better.
The survey is a chance to gauge the opinions of farmers and come back with a producer-vetted alternative.
“We are looking for general understanding from the farm community where they are at with this,” explains Lewis. “A lot of the push-back from our membership was about the lack of consultations which went on in the development of the two royalty models put forward by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Many of the farmers were surprised when they saw those models because they were not aware consultations were actually going on. If we want build a third option, we want to do it with as much of the farmers’ buy in and support as possible.”
Lewis says farmers already have the check-off system for ag research purposes, but there is good oversight on how those funds are allocated. With the latest proposal by the federal government, Lewis says producer groups really have no idea where they stand.
“I think farmers are willing to put forth money toward research if they see the need for that money,” he states, “but they want to know how it is going to be spent and if they are going to see value from the investment they make. If we are going to take more dollars off our bottom line with out margins already declining in many of our crops we grow for research, we want to make sure we get the best bang for our buck and it is spent properly.”
Lewis feels the federal government likely put the cart before the horse in this instance, and now has put things on hold with a difficult election looming in just a few weeks time. Lewis says it is important to take advantage of the space this has afforded producers to get out ahead of the issue before any newly-elected or re-elected government decides to revisit seed royalties later this year or next.
“Part of the risk here is if we don’t put together something and bring it forward, we have been told as of last year what they thought the two models should be. As farm groups we now have the opportunity to work together and put something forward which works better for farmers.”
Lewis hopes many decide to take part in the survey which is co-sponsored by APAS and the Alberta Federation of Agriculture. He also says farmers need to speak up with one voice so the federal government continues to fund agricultural research in this country without abdicating the Canadian taxpayers’ obligation to support this valuable national industry as a whole, and simply offload that national obligation onto the backs of producers’ bottom lines.
“Whatever model we have, we want to ensure the federal government keeps putting their contribution for research forward. It has paid great dividends for the country, and it has been a good news story and money very well spent. It has helped the Canadian economy, and we certainly want to see that continue.”
The survey is now available at seedroyaltysurvey.com.