Should the Seed Sector Start from Scratch?

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The new Seed Synergy green paper lays out a proposed vision for a next-generation Canadian seed system.

They key to a successful 21st-century Canadian seed industry is a modernized seed system that effectively attracts investment, fosters innovation, and delivers new and tailored seed traits to customers efficiently.

That’s according to the new green paper issued by the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project Team, which is made up of members of our industry six associations and is working to develop a next-generation seed system for the country via the Seed Synergy project.

First announced in 2016, the Seed Synergy project is being undertaken by all six associations that make up the seed industry — Canadian Seed Institute, CropLife Canada, Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, Canadian Seed Trade Association, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency.

The project kicked into full gear after a series of annual meetings in 2017, at which the boards of all six associations gathered to discuss the project and how to move forward.

According to the new green paper — the precursor to a Seed Synergy white paper to be released in the coming months — Canada’s seed system is in danger of imploding due to a number of factors, among them the fact that our system is an old and arguably out-dated one.

In addition, it argues that while Canada has an excellent national system assuring and tracing the genetic identity and origin of seed in the marketplace, seed sold as common seed does not provide these benefits, nor contribute directly to the seed system.

These factors, the green paper says, limit both domestic and export market-driven growth for Canadian producers, and if not addressed will place Canada at a productivity disadvantage relative to its international competitors.

As a result, the green paper argues that a revamped seed system is needed in Canada, one that delivers:

  • Improved profitability, which will in turn stimulate the investment needed to deliver a steady stream of new product innovation and growth;
  • A more efficient governance model for the seed system, where stakeholder organizations work in tight collaboration with each other and government in potentially new configurations;
  • Regulations that make sense and that are easier to understand, navigate, and comply with;
  • A system that better adapts to change, and responds and adjusts to sector needs on an ongoing basis;
  • A competitive environment that has space for businesses of all sizes to be successful and competitive, not just the biggest players with the most resources.

“In this context, the case for change is clear. To realize its full potential, Canada needs to rethink the core policies, legislative and regulatory frameworks, and associated institutional arrangements that make up the seed system of today. The rules and practices simply have to change, to deliver a more responsive, transparent, and customer-focused system, and to make Canada an attractive investment market for both large and small businesses.”

Major Reforms

The Seed Synergy project team is proposing major seed industry reforms in the areas of:

  1. Research & Development: the green paper proposes a new, risk-based assessment model that sets regulatory requirements in proportion to the projected risk of new products. “Government will continue to lead oversight of the system, and government-sectoral coordination needs to be enhanced to define regulatory standards that make sense.”
  2. Market Entry and Commercialization: proposes replacing the current variety registration and variety eligibility for certification regimes with an integrated system, anchored in a product profile for all approved seed products, containing all regulatory and commercial information relevant to that product in one, easily accessible place or virtual space, with access to confidential business information about a product limited to those granted explicit access to it.
  3. Production and processing: proposes a modernized pedigreed seed system that will facilitate an increase in pedigreed seed use and a reduction in incentives for common seed production, as new high-performing protected varieties replace older ones. “We propose an expansion of options for producing seed under comprehensive quality management systems that do not require third-party crop inspections but which are backed by third-party audit frameworks.”
  4. Sales and distribution: proposes a universal seed lot listing system, where seed for sale is listed along with at least a declaration of identity and quality.

It also proposes a new value creation model that enables technology transfer and innovation and drives economic growth, and which features a seed sale listing system that brings increased transparency and utility to seed sales across the country, and allows for more efficient protections of intellectual property rights and commercial transactions.

Finally, the green paper proposes improving governance of the seed system overall to sustain these reforms, and to better coordinate priorities across the seed and agricultural sectors. It suggests creating an “anchoring organization” that would perform many of the functions proposed herein.

“This could take the form of a single organization or a formal network of organizations or parts thereof,” the paper says.

To read the full green paper, visit http://seedgrowers.ca/wp-content/uploads/Synergy-Green-Paper-5.3.pdf