AGRIFOOD ATLAS 2017

(November 30, 2018)  By now most grain farmers are aware that just three giant agro-chemical-seed companies dominate the global agrochemical and seed market.  These giants are certainly interested in taking control of the Canadian cereals genome away from farmers and the public interest.  Their friends and sympathisers are using a vehicle called “Seed Synergy” under the umbrella of “Seed Value Creation” to make this happen.  They make various claims about how charging farmers royalties on the seed they grow will be a great thing.

I would just like to highlight some of the talking points Seed Synergy and their friends use to push this privatization agenda of imposing royalties and draconian regulations on grain farmers under various labels (Technology Use Agreements (TUAs), Seed Variety Use Agreements, End Point Royalties, Trailing Contracts and the like).

They seem to have several talking points.

To keep farmers docile, they say royalties/TUAs will only apply to new varieties where farmers’ right to save seed has been replaced with a mere privilege – BUT, they say, we will still have the right to save and grow obsolete varieties.  Both statements may be true but are irrelevant.  Is anybody still growing Betz barley?  Of course not, smut and other fungi evolved to eat it.

As older varieties become vulnerable to evolving pests, evolution makes them obsolete, making the right to save and grow our own older varieties weak and fragile.  To speed up farmer adoption of new royalty-friendly varieties, expect to jump through hoops to prove you’re really planting an older variety.  The Seed Synergy database they want to set up to enforce the new royalty scheme will quickly identify where new varieties are not being grown and whose land is not returning royalties, making it easy for the PBR police to find you.  So, in the near future with Seed Synergy/TUAs there will be no possibility of choice for grain farmers.  With TUAs, evolution will gradually kill any choices we have to grow and save seed of any sort without paying some sort of annual royalty to the integrated agro-chemical-seed companies.

The contention farmers will always have the choice of saving and planting their own seed-grain is less than accurate.

I should also note that it takes around 12 years to develop a new variety.  This means that in the short term this is just an excuse for the agro-chemical-seed companies to free load on the publically developed varieties already in the pipeline.  Remember farmers and the Canadian public paid for the development of those varieties.

The second claim is that Royalties/TUAs will allow us to be “competitive on a world basis.”  More nonsense.  Our wheat and barley genetics are already the gold standard for quality and agronomic fitness to our climate.  Giving control of choosing which varietal lines are “finished” and commercialized to companies operating on a multinational basis means our needs in prairie Canada will be watered down to a common global level.  This is simply the logic of business lowering its overhead costs by using fewer specialized product lines to enhance their profits.  Prairie Canada lives or dies on its ability to provide quality-assured grain that nobody else grows.  Our climate helps, but publically developed genetics are the other magic ingredient.

Seed Synergy supporters also make much of the idea the government is cutting back on its support of public plant breeding.  It is true the Harper clan did engage in an orgy of destruction just before they lost the last election.  This can be easily fixed by restoring the public obligation to support impartially developed cereal grains which the Harper Conservatives cut back on.

Why pedigreed seed growers would think their own work is so unimportant that it does not demand continued government support for public plant breeding is a mystery, as is their willingness to surrender their independence and skills to work as agents of the big agro-chemical-seed companies.

Lastly, the issue of conflict of interest is simply not addressed.  In an interview Ward Oatway (president of the Ab. Seed Growers) even trotted out midge resistant wheat as an example of how good this whole process could be.  In fact, midge resistant wheat is a recent example of public plant breeding without the built-in conflicts of interest of Seed Synergy TUAs.

Another good example is “Rescue” the sawfly resistant wheat registered in 1946 and developed by our public system.  At that time US farmers were reliant on the private seed companies and sprayed mega tonnes of DDT on their wheat to control sawflies while our wheat was sawfly resistant, so we did not need DDT.

How would companies like Bayer/Monsanto, which have major investments in agro-chemical factories deal with a similar insect resistant varietal line in a world of plant breeding effectively controlled by private companies?  Actually, private companies have controlled canola breeding since the early 1980s.  They have left a varietal line known as “hairy canola” that does not need insecticides sitting on the shelf for years.  When compared with wheat, privately managed canola breeding has proven to be more expensive with poorer yield gains, but that is another problem.  We Albertans seem to be blind to conflicts of interest.

In my over 40 years of grain farming I have purchased and planted seed every year from one of the local farms who raise pedigreed seed – my choice.  Many of my neighbours save and replant their seed and only occasionally buy pedigreed seed – their choice.  Our present system is already the best in the world for both farmers and the public.  Under Seed Synergy/TUAs, we will all be compelled to purchase seed from one of the big agro-chemical-seed companies every year and pay royalties in one form or another to their shareholders – and that is no choice at all.

Next time look for a more detailed article on this subject.

 

3 comments

  1. Reynold Reimer

    Thanks for this. It states things clearly. Those of us that don’t farm need this sort of education.

  2. Darrell Stokes

    Way to go Ken. See you on the 6th in Edmonton?

    • The Saskatoon meeting is today – December 4, 2018 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre, 2002 Airport Dr.

      The meeting in Edmonton is December 6, 2018 10:00am to 4:00 pm at Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel, 4236 36th St.