Bee populations are declining in many parts of the globe, a worrying sign for the crops and wild plants that rely on these pollinators for their survival. Parasites, disease and shrinking food resources are all prime suspects. But a link to neonics has become a major flashpoint.
CSTA Kicks Off Better Seed, Better Life Program10 months ago -
The Canadian Seed Trade Association has launched its Better Seed, Better Life program at its semi-annual meeting in Calgary, Alta.
Through Better Seed, Better Life, CSTA will engage in dialogue with Canadians on the role of seed as the foundation for the food and drink we enjoy, the clothes we wear and the fuel in our cars.
CSTA’s Better Seed, Better Life program starts today with the launch of its Better Seed, Better Life video and the fact sheet “Cheers for Cereals.” The video, developed by Alberta Seed Guide publisher Issues Ink, aims to capture the essence of the Canadian seed industry and the role that seed plays in our day-to-day lives. The fact sheet is one part of a series of fact sheets to be released over the coming months. The aim is to connect the seeds produced by CSTA members and the crops grown from those seeds to the products used in our everyday life. The fact sheets will be available at cdnseed.org.
“CSTA believes that having conversations about seed and plant breeding is vital and that is why we have launched our Better Seed, Better Life initiative,” said Dan Wright, CSTA president. “Seeds are a remarkable package that people often don’t give a lot of thought to and we want Canadians to recognize the role that seed plays in their everyday lives and the incredible things that we can do with them. These seeds carry the innovation that the world’s farmers will need to feed a population that is expected to swell to over 9 billion people by 2050. Over the next year and beyond, CSTA members look forward to the opportunity to engage in important conversations with Canadians on how it all starts with a seed.”
CSTA’s Better Seed, Better Life program is based on materials created by the American Seed Trade Association and is a collaborative effort of CSTA and ASTA.
Board Members Eager to Get Growing10 months ago -
These two seed growers are new Alberta Seed Growers board members. Both have farming in their blood, and are pumped about their new role.
Unlike many industries, farming is one where most kids don’t roll their eyes at the prospect of following in dad’s footsteps.
That is certainly the case for two new members of the Alberta Seed Growers (ASG) board who were both eyeing a farming career from an early age.
Such is the story with Richard Hallett, a seed grower and cattle producer located 15 km west of Carstairs.
“My dad started growing pedigreed seed in the 1980s, so I was born into it. I’ve grown pedigreed seed my whole life.”
Hallett took an eight-month break after high school and travelled to New Zealand, but all roads led back to the farm.
“When I returned, I went to Olds College and studied farm and ranch management, and I’ve been working on our seed business ever since.”
The business is truly a family affair. Hallett’s young son and daughter are involved, and his 91-year-old grandfather still lends a hand.
That concept of continuity is a big part of the seed growing appeal for Hallett.
“I love seeing things through. As a seed grower, I hear about new varieties coming down the pipeline and I can choose the ones I think will be good for our customers,” he says. “It’s satisfying to follow the seeds through their lifecycle and find the varieties that best suit a specific area and client.”
The only challenge comes at peak times when he’s selling seed while trying to get his own seed in the ground. Of course, a knack for overcoming obstacles is a good quality for a new ASG board member.
“I just joined at the end of January, so am quite new to this. I’ve attended the general meetings over the last four years, and when the past president approached me I decided to get involved.”
Shaping the Future
Hallett was keen to meet people and learn more about the workings of the seed industry. As well, he saw the board as playing a key role.
“Seed growers are at the leading edge of the latest varieties and technologies in crop production, and the board is a great spokesperson in representing the industry and guiding it forward.”
In the process, the board must deal with issues unique to the industry. It’s a good time to have board members with different viewpoints, as “everyone’s perspective is valuable”.
Rooted in Success
One of those perspectives belongs to fellow new board member Tracy Niemela. Along with her parents, husband and other family members, she operates a seed farm near Sylvan Lake.
Like Hallett, the business has deep roots in her family tree.
“My sisters and I are the fifth generation on the farm and I am a third-generation seed grower. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. It’s a lifestyle that I grew up in, fell in love with and want to raise my child in. I hope to keep the operation going for generations to come.”
A University of Alberta graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and an agronomy certificate from Olds College, Niemela worked for the health region as a systems consultant while helping on the family farm. Eventually she quit and went back to the farm full time.
She finds the seed business challenging and rewarding at the same time and one that is constantly changing. That suits her just fine as it really keeps her on her toes.
Also fitting well is her place on the ASG board. Although Niemela was hesitant when first asked to run, fearing she lacked the time and the knowledge of what the board did, she finally took the plunge.
“All boards benefit from fresh ideas. I’m excited about being at the forefront of information, networking and helping to shape the future of seed growers in Alberta and possibly throughout Canada. It will not only benefit me and our seed farm, but others as well.”
Moved to Action
Part of that shaping includes addressing movements like gluten-free, organic and chemical reduction.
“These aren’t necessarily bad things, but there is a lot of wrong and misleading information out there,” notes Niemela. “We need to stay ahead and promote what we do before all of this explodes and starts dictating the future for farmers and possibly seed growers.”
Niemela has seen a lot of industry changes over the years, such as the increasing role of big business in taking control and ownership of varieties while “more and more seed is grown under contract. The questions going forward are critical: Where will pedigreed seed be in the future? Will the seed system still exist? Will it need to exist?”
There’s a lot to tackle, but with farming in the blood and their hearts on their sleeves, Hallett and Niemela are pumped to take it on.
Canola still the king of the crops10 months ago -
By ATB Financial’s Economics & Research Team
Despite the growing diversity within Alberta’s farm crops, one famous flowering farm staple remains well ahead of all others, at least if you measure it by the cash receipts it commands.
Over the last 10 years, canola has been, by far, the largest cash crop in Alberta. It accounts for about 42 per cent of all cash receipts over the last decade. On average, that’s racked up about $2.4 billion dollars per year for Alberta farmers.
Wheat comes in a respectable second place with average annual receipts of $1.6 billion (including durum wheat). This is about 29 per cent of cash receipts since 2007. Other grains such as barley (5.3 per cent) and oats (0.8 per cent) are well behind in terms of value.
Many Albertans may be surprised to learn that our third largest cash crop is dry peas — they’ve contributed on average $300 million annually, amounting to about 5.4 per cent of total receipts. Lentils and field vegetables kick in another two per cent.
There is a wide variety of other crops that contribute to farmer cash receipts. About 15 per cent of total revenues are items like potatoes ($176 million per year), dry beans, mustard seed and flaxseed.
Correctly Used Neonics Do Not Adversely Affect Honeybee Colonies, New Research Finds10 months ago -
The three most widely used neonicotinoid pesticides for flowering crops pose no risk to honeybee colonies when used correctly as seed treatments, according to new studies by University of Guelph researchers.
Amid mounting controversy over use of neonicotinoids (neonics) and declining bee population, a new analysis by U of G scientists of previously unpublished studies and reports commissioned by agri-chemical companies Bayer and Syngenta – as well as published papers from the scientific literature – shows no significant ill effects on honeybee colonies from three common insecticides made by the companies.
The findings are described in five papers published this month by Keith Solomon, a toxicologist and emeritus professor with the School of Environmental Sciences and adjunct professor Gladys Stephenson in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health-B.
The duo analyzed 170 unpublished studies that Syngenta and Bayer had submitted to regulatory agencies. They also included 64 papers from the open, peer-reviewed literature on the topic.
Acknowledging that these three pesticides can kill individual honeybees and may also pose a threat to other pollinators, Solomon said: “At least for honeybees, these products are not a major concern. Use of these neonics under good agricultural practices does not present a risk to honeybees at the level of the colony.”
The U of G scientists were asked by Bayer and Syngenta to assess earlier studies conducted by or for the companies on impacts of pesticide-treated seeds on honeybees.
They conducted weight of evidence assessments, an approach developed specifically for these studies that is intended to gauge the quality of reported data and to compare relevance of results from different studies.
The companies wished to respond to controversy and inconclusive evidence about the potential harm posed to pollinators by neonic pesticides, said Solomon.
All pesticides in Canada must be registered with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
The study involved three pesticides – clothianidin and imidacloprid made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam made by Syngenta – that are used in seed treatments for various field crops.
Solomon said the original papers varied in quality and scientific rigour, but their results generally showed no adverse effects of pesticides on honeybee hives.
“Many studies look at effects of insecticides on individual bees. What regulations try to protect is the colony — the reproductive unit.”
He said other researchers might use their results to improve studies of pesticide exposure in hives.
The U of G researchers stressed the importance of “good agricultural practices,” including ensuring that seeds are coated and planted properly to avoid airborne contamination of bees during field seeding.
Solomon said their results don’t necessarily apply to other insects that also serve as crop pollinators and that have shown population declines. For those pollinators, he said, “There are too few studies at the colony or field level to allow a weight of evidence analysis.”
The U of G researchers said bees and other pollinators are affected by potentially harmful factors, including long-distance movement of colonies for crop pollination as well as mites and viruses, weather, insufficient food and varying beekeeping practices.
Source: University of Guelph
Genome of Wheat Ancestor Sequenced10 months ago -
Technological Breakthrough Will Help Decode Massive Bread Wheat Genome, Accelerate Wheat Breeding
Sequencing the bread wheat genome has long been considered an almost insurmountable task, due to its enormous size and complexity. Yet it is vitally important for the global food supply, providing more than 20 per cent of the calories and 23 per cent of the protein consumed by humans.
Now, an international team of scientists led by researchers at the University of California, Davis, has come a step closer to solving the puzzle by sequencing the genome of a wild ancestor of bread wheat known as Aegilops tauschii, a type of goatgrass.
In the study, published Nov. 15 in the journal Nature, researchers applied a combination of advanced technologies to generate a reference-quality genome sequence for Ae. tauschii, which is highly adaptable and tolerant of diseases. It is also the primary source of genes for the bread-making properties of wheat flour.
The findings will allow researchers to discover new genes that can improve wheat baking quality, resistance to diseases, and tolerance to extreme environmental conditions like frost, drought and salinity.
The effort has already had one practical result: the discovery of two new genes for resistance to a race of wheat stem rust to which there is virtually no resistance in wheat. The genes were transferred from Ae. tauschii into wheat and are now available to wheat breeders.
Piecing together the puzzle
Wheat and its wild ancestors have genomes much larger than humans, which makes sequencing difficult.
“When we started this project nearly two decades ago, there was no technology to sequence genomes of that size and complexity,” said Jan Dvorak, a leader of the project and professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “This group of plants are unique because their genomes are just absolutely full of repeated sequences. We found more than 84 percent of the Ae. tauschii genome consists of closely related repeated sequences.”
Dvorak describes the project as like tearing up pages of a thick book and trying to piece it back together. “Only imagine that every sentence on the page is nearly identical. That was our task,” said Dvorak.
The technologies used by the researchers can be applied to any plant genome, so the implications extend beyond wheat.
Contributors to the research include scientists from USDA-ARS, Albany, California; John Hopkins University, Maryland; University of Georgia, Athens in the U.S.; and from Germany, Canada, China, U.K., France, and Switzerland. The research was funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Cigi Enters a New Era10 months ago -
The Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) works with the entire grain and field crop value chain within Canada and internationally to drive the development and utilization of Canadian crops.
The independent, not-for-profit organization was established in 1972, and today more than ever, Cigi is moving forward in its mission.
For instance, development activity of the Combine to Customer program, first launched in 1999, is ongoing.
“The purpose of the program nowadays is to give growers an overview of the different organizations involved in the wheat value chain, more information on the quality of Canadian wheat and hands-on experience in Cigi’s technical facilities learning about the functionality of wheat in baking, noodle-making and pasta,” says Cigi CEO JoAnne Buth. “We believe it’s really important for growers to know where their wheat is exported and the quality characteristics that customers want.”
Cigi board chair Kevin Bender adds that the Combine to Customer program is also an opportunity for growers to ask questions of Cigi technical staff who have first-hand knowledge of customer requirements, so they can better understand how things like protein content, gluten strength and quality, and the different grading factors affect the processing of end-products in markets around the world. It also gives Cigi staff the opportunity to ask growers questions about issues on their farms.
There have been over 80 Combine to Customer programs held so far, and participation has remained consistent over the years, with 15 to over 20 growers per program, and strong interest and participation from Alberta growers. A number of different industry people have served as presenters, and Buth says one of the popular presentation topics added in recent years are the crop mission reports.
“Farmers who have travelled on the new after-harvest missions to various countries report back to other growers about their experiences,” she says. “Participants hear what kinds of information international customers are seeking from farmers, from farming practices, quality control methods and sustainability to what the growing season is like in Western Canada.
“Overall feedback about Customer to Combine is consistently positive,” adds Buth, with growers often taking to social media to share what they’ve learned. “If you search the hashtag #CombineToCustomer on Twitter, you’ll get a good sense of how participants feel about the course, including one earlier this year who described it as an ‘awesome ag learning experience.’”
New Funding Formula
This past June, Cigi announced its new board of directors at the same time it introduced a new funding model and board structure. There are now five growers and five grain company representatives on the board, including chair Kevin Bender (Alberta Wheat Commission), vice chair Brent Watchorn (Richardson International), secretary Jim Smolik (Cargill Canada), and directors Drew Baker (Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association), Harvey Brooks and Bill Gehl (Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission), Trent Rude (Viterra), Jean-Marc Ruest (Richardson International), Gary Stanford (Alberta Wheat Commission) and Ward Weisensel (G3 Canada Limited).
The new board structure is a reflection of Cigi’s new funding formula, wherein the three wheat commissions and seven grain exporters/handlers provide Cigi with core funding totalling $7.7 million over the next two years. The Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association will fund Cigi through their respective single wheat check-offs, taking the place of the farmer check-off funding Cigi received through the Western Canadian Deduction (WCD), which ended July 31, 2017. The grain companies funding Cigi are Viterra, Richardson International, Cargill Canada, Parrish and Heimbecker, Paterson Grain, G3 Canada Limited and Inland Terminal Association of Canada.
“This new sustainable funding framework is an important milestone in Cigi’s 45-year history and we look forward to working with the new board to ensure Cigi remains a strong asset to the Canadian grain industry,” says Buth.
Prior to June 29, 2017, Cigi was funded through the Western Canadian Deduction, which was a regulation put in place after the marketing changes. This levy was $0.48 per tonne of wheat delivered in Western Canada to licensed grain facilities, of which Cigi received $0.15, and the remaining funds went to the Western Grains Research Foundation to support variety development with a small amount going to administration.
In the past, Cigi had also received some funding from grain companies, but it was limited to some specific projects that Cigi conducted on a fee-for-service basis.
The WCD regulation expired on July 31, 2017, so Cigi had been working closely before that point with the new wheat commissions to ensure they understood Cigi’s role in the wheat value chain and would continue to feel it important to support the organization.
“At the same time, we recognized that the grain companies were also benefiting from Cigi’s work, so we approached them to contribute directly,” says Buth. “Now the grain companies and growers are contributing core funding on a 50:50 basis, and it’s a significant step to have growers and grain companies share equally in the funding and governance of Cigi to ensure we continue to respond to the needs of the industry.”
Cigi is also funded by the federal government through the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada AgriMarketing Program, the AgriInnovation program and a special project in Morocco with Global Affairs Canada funding.
While there is much activity at Cigi, contrary to some rumours, there is no activity happening that involves merging Cigi and Cereals Canada, nor are there any plans in place at this point to do so.
“Cigi works closely with all value chain organizations including the provincial wheat commissions, pulse growers, WGEA [Western Grain Elevator Association] and so on, and we work closely with Cereals Canada since they are working on policy, research and market development issues related to wheat,” Bender explains. “The recent media headline referring to a merge was not accurate, and if you look at the interviewee comments, there was no mention of amalgamation, just working closely together.”
Large U.S. farm study finds no cancer link to Monsanto weedkiller10 months ago -
A large long-term study on the use of the big-selling weedkiller glyphosate by agricultural workers in the United States has found no firm link between exposure to the pesticide and cancer, scientists said on Thursday, Nov. 9.
Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), the study found there was no association between glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup, “and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) and its subtypes”.
It said there was “some evidence of increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) among the highest exposed group,” but added this association was “not statistically significant”.
The findings are likely to impact legal proceedings in the United States against Monsanto, in which more than 180 plaintiffs are claiming exposure to Roundup gave them cancer – allegations Monsanto denies.
The findings may also influence a crucial decision due by the end of the year on whether glyphosate should be re-licensed for sale across the European Union. The EU decision has been delayed for more than a year after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed glyphosate in 2015 and concluded it was “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Other bodies, such as the European Food Safety Authority, have concluded glyphosate is safe to use.
The research is part of a large and important project known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which has been tracking the health of tens of thousands of agricultural workers, farmers and their families in Iowa and North Carolina. Since the early 1990s, it has gathered and analyzed detailed information on the health of participants and their families, and their use of pesticides, including glyphosate.
David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Britain’s Cambridge University who has no link to the research, said Thursday’s findings were from a “large and careful study” and showed “no significant relationship between glyphosate use and any cancer”.
The publication of the study on Thursday comes more than four years since drafts based on the AHS data on glyphosate and other pesticides were circulating in February and March 2013. In a summary of the results, the researchers, led by Laura Beane Freeman, principal investigator of the AHS at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said that among 54,251 (pesticide) applicators studied, 44,932, or 82.9 percent, used glyphosate. “Glyphosate was not statistically significantly associated with cancer at any site,” the summary said.
The bitter battle over the world’s most popular insecticides11 months ago -
Industry Consolidation11 months ago -
The face of the many large agri-business companies in Canada is changing. Dow and DuPont recently concluded their merger, ChemChina is currently finalizing their purchase of Syngenta and Bayer is working through the regulatory hurdles as part of their acquisition of Monsanto.
With fewer chemical and seed companies on the horizon, it’s expected growers will benefit from the kind of high dollar investment in research and development that other big technology industries have seen in recent years.
“Consolidation can be good thing, but we need to explain and demonstrate the benefits to our customers,” says Marcus Weidler, head of seeds with Bayer Canada. “It is becoming more and more challenging to bring innovation to market, and companies have to invest heavily to bring new technologies to customers.”
The costs to introduce new technologies are often so high due to the amount of time it takes to bring products to market. Bayer’s successful pod shatter reduction technology was launched in 2014, but the company first started work on the technology in the late 1990s. And as a non-GM trait, this technology wasn’t as complex as much of current seed trait research.
“We have invested billions in research and development, but not only is science becoming more complex, the regulatory environment can be unpredictable, and that also means more time and more investment,” says Weidler. “We sell to many countries that have different rules and regulations and those rules are constantly evolving. Once a product has been developed, it then requires more money to conduct the number of studies necessary to satisfy the needs of the grower [and] the consumer, and also meet government requirements.”
Jeff Nielsen, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, doesn’t see that there will be much change from a seed grower or a farmer perspective following this round of consolidation.
“These combined companies will need good local seed growers, and as they bring new seed products to market they will be relying on local seed production to even greater levels,” he says. “Most growers already have established strong connections with all of these companies and even with consolidation, I don’t see them reducing their levels of service. It wouldn’t make business sense.”
He says the agriculture industry has been consolidating for the past two decades, and so far, the strong public breeding programs have remained intact, and heavy regulation has meant that competition remains strong. He says he hopes these larger entities could also have increased power in lobbying for increasing government funding for research.
“More research is needed to find solutions to problems that we are currently struggling with in Canadian farming, such as Fusarium in wheat,” he says. “We don’t have a solution to Fusarium right now and it is possible that solution will come from seed. We hope that these merged companies will have the means to invest in research at a more intense level.”
Trish Jordan, public and industry affairs director with Monsanto, agrees. “The merger between Monsanto and Bayer is driven by the need for investment, and to continue to drive research and development on both the seed and the chemical sides of the business,” she says. “This industry has always balanced competition with collaboration. Agriculture still has more than 3,500 companies across North America that provide goods and services, and the change from six to three big life sciences companies is really just allowing for greater investment into the industry.”
Jordan says Bayer and Monsanto have very little overlap, and any duplication will be addressed through global regulatory networks in advance of finalizing the deal. She admits growers worry about having fewer choices – but in fact they could have more choice as the combined products and services offer a larger combination of solutions.
“New entrants into the business are continuing to change the way the business of agriculture works,” she says. “There are countless startups in the business of digital farming and analytics that will enhance some of the products we offer to help improve farming. While there is a lot of change right now, the agriculture businessplace is not shrinking.”
Jordan adds it would not be in any business’s best interest to alienate their customers, and their research is completed with the end customer in mind.
“If we create $1 of a benefit on a new product innovation, then a farmer needs to see a portion of it, the retailer needs to have their share, we need to secure a percentage and then we reinvest it into bringing the next innovation to the market,” she says. “If we aren’t offering the options that growers are asking for, then we won’t be successful as a business.”
For growers concerned about competition, Jordan stresses the global competition process is very demanding, and that each country’s regulatory body looks at individual pieces of the combined business and it decides if it is adding or detracting to competition in the marketplace. “If they see that a company has too much impact in a certain area, they may ask them to divest that interest,” she says.
Weidler says for Bayer and Monsanto, in the short-term growers won’t really see any change as the new business’s number one focus will be on serving their customer.
“At the end of the day, we have to make sure that our business relationships are intact and that we are able to provide the same level of service as we have in the past,” he says. “Our number one principle going forward is no interruption in service. It will then be up to us to prove to the grower and to consumers how these combined companies will be better for them in the long term.”
SGS acquires BioVision Seed Research Ltd.11 months ago -
SGS announced today that it has acquired BioVision Seed Research Ltd., a seed, grain and soil testing laboratory serving the agricultural markets in Western Canada and beyond.
BioVision is headquartered Sherwood Park, Alta., with additional facilities in Winnipeg, Man. and Grand Prairie, Alta. The company offers testing across a broad variety of crops, supported by its fully-accredited experts and laboratories (CFIA, CSI, ISO 9001:2008).
Founded in 1996 and privately owned, BioVision Seed Research Ltd. employs 20 staff and generated revenues in excess of CAD 3.4 million in the last financial year.
“This acquisition reinforces our already strong presence in the Canadian agricultural market and allows us to expand our portfolio of services across our extensive country-wide branch network,” said Frankie Ng, CEO of SGS.
According to a news release, SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. The company is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 90,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,000 offices and laboratories around the world.