7 Ways Seed-Applied Technologies are Evolving

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From boosting yield to helping you look at what you’re trying to accomplish on the farm, these products hold a lot of promise for the future.

Next-generation seed treatment technologies, non-chemistry-based seed treatment technologies, and the potential of biologicals and microbes are all driving the industry forward. Farmers need to keep in mind that they must not only keep up with the latest trends, but they also have to make sure they are asking the right questions. In order to do be able to do that, you need to know how these products are growing and evolving.

They may help boost yield.

Russell Trischuk, regional technical managerfor BASF Functional Crop Care in Saskatoon, Sask., says to get to the next plateau of yield, there’s a lot yet to be done with these technologies. “We’ve made big strides in yield over the past few decades due to effective fungicides, herbicides and insecticides plus a big contribution from genetics technologies. Still, the yield increase year over year isn’t what is used to be. Through on-seed technologies we can afford the plant the ability to manage abiotic and even some biotic stresses. We believe these products really will take us to the next level of production in our crops not only in Western Canada, but globally.”

They may help you rely less on chemistry.

John Kibbee is the owner of Kibbee ST Consultingin Guelph, Ont.He has a history of product development and technical management experience in seed treatments. He says in terms of the non-chemistry-based seed treatment technologies that are of interest to him, microbes for seed treatment — also called biologicals — can do some incredible things “and we’ve only scratched the surface.” Kibbee believes seed treatments have become a low-impact crop protection method, and microbes are the next evolution. “They’re green, have a better acceptance among consumers, but are complicated to formulate and turn into a commercial product that works consistently in the field.”

They may help enhance the effectiveness of the chemistry you’re using.

Trischuksays the use of biologicals in combination with chemistry allows them to plug holes in their crop protection systems and improve the crops they are putting it on. “A biological seed treatment is a technology where it’s easy to demonstrate these benefits,” he states, adding a chemical treatment is very effective for protecting the seed and plant as it gets out of the ground.

These products will help protect the plant during its most crucial stage.

“We know that within a two or three-week period after planting, the impact of that chemical treatment starts to wear off. This is where biological treatments come in,” says Trischuk. He explains that it takes some time for that microorganism to grow and colonize the root system or soil surrounding it, and due to that they see a delayed response in disease control. “This is right in line for when we see a chemical treatment begin to lose its efficacy,” he says. “We can bridge that gap that we see until later in the season when a foliar treatment can be applied.”

These technologies are changing how we think about seed treatments.

Kibbee says it took him a long time to adjust his thinking, as he spent his career trying to protect crops from microbes, but now he thinks about nurturing them and allowing them to survive. Looking to the future, what sort of microbes can we harness for use in seed treatments of the future? “Rhizobia is an obvious one for nitrogen fixation on legumes and is something we’re already seeing used. Azospirillum is popular in Latin America for nitrogen fixation on cereals,” says Kibbee.

Seed treatments are changing how manufacturers commercialize products.

“We now have a dedicated seed and soilborne pathogens screening program [at BASF],” Trischuk explains. “All molecules are screened not only for efficacy against foliar diseases, but against all major diseases attacking the seed and seedling in the soil. That’s in contrast to what we used to do, where we’d find an active ingredient that was a good fungicide, develop it for foliar use, and then look to see if there’s was a fit on seed or in soil.” He believes that change in philosophy has allowed them to identify a couple of molecules that they don’t think would have passed screening for a foliar fungicide but have been found to be very effective on seed or in soil.

They’ll help change how you make product selections. 

In the end, Trischuk says when comparing biological and chemical solutions — especially with regard to consistency of performance and expectation of results — farmers need to examine their expectations.Some of these products don’t have a requirement to submit efficacy data to receive registration,” he says. “Make sure you ask questions about the product. If there’s only been one trial, how credible is that data? At BASF we try to give a lot of info about what the grower can expect. If you want to know how something works, ask for data.”

Herbicide Resistance – Coming To A Field Near You

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Herbicide resistance in weeds is a growing problem affecting many commonly used products used in Alberta and around the world. Harry Brook, crop specialist at that the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, explains herbicide resistance and the upcoming webinar that addresses the issue.

“We frequently hear about resistance – whether it is microbial, fungal or weed control – and it is the same problem,” says Brook. “When you have a great tool, like an antibiotic or herbicide, and it does a bang-up job of controlling a problem, it becomes your go-to answer to that particular bug or weed. However, the success of that control product carries the seeds of its own destruction. Overuse leads to resistance and a search for another magic bullet. There is not an inexhaustible supply of magic bullets.”

Brook explains further, “With herbicides, using the same herbicide group sharpens the selection pressure on the weeds affected by that herbicide. Every plant population has small numbers of naturally occurring resistant plants, or ones that do not respond as well, to a given herbicide. Repeated use of that herbicide or group will give the resistant plants free rein to grow and proliferate. Over a short period of time this can result in fields dominated by weeds not responsive to your herbicide and a massive seed bank, giving you trouble for years in the future.”

Brook says that there are several telltale signs that indicate a potential problem with herbicide resistance:

    • Unexplained weed patches in the field even when the majority of that weed species was killed.
    • Problem patches in no particular pattern and obviously not a sprayer miss.
    • Other weeds controlled by the herbicide are killed but weeds next to them appear untouched.
    • This herbicide or another from the same group used this year was noted with a problem last year.
    • Field history indicates extensive use of one particular herbicide group.

Each herbicide is classified by the way the herbicide kills the target weeds, called the mode of action. A limited number of modes of action are available, despite the yearly proliferation of generic herbicides.

“There has been no new mode of action discovered in almost 30 years,” he adds. “If you hear of any new herbicide it is – at best – a new compound found in an existing group, creating a false impression. If you have a weed that is resistant to one herbicide in a particular herbicide group, it is resistant to all the herbicides in that group, even the new ones.”

Record keeping is essential to determine if there is a resistance issue. It notes the repeated use of particular herbicides or groups. It is also useful in planning alternate weed control strategies to combat those resistant weeds.

Herbicides are just one way to control weeds. “Delayed planting prior to seeding can help cut down weed populations, “explains Brook. “In areas of better moisture, heavier seeding of the crop can add crop/weed competition as an effective way to keep weeds from hitting your yields. If you have cattle, chaff collection can be an effective way to remove weed seeds. A diverse and varied crop rotation that incorporates perennial forages can also be very effective in reducing weed seed production and carryover. And ultimately, localized or patch cultivation can sometimes be the most effective way to control particular weeds.”

He notes that another effective method to slow the spread of herbicide resistance is to use more than one mode of action on the particular weed. “We are seeing this as producers have gone back to using Avadex or Treflan as a preplant application to the soil then applying a Group 1 or 2 post emergence herbicide once the crop is up. This extends the useful life of a herbicide but not forever. Other tools, besides herbicides, need to be used to keep herbicides as a valuable weed control option.”

“Foxtail barley is an increasingly problematic weed in much of the province,” says Brook. “It does not respond well to herbicides but is very easy to control with light cultivation. Wild oats are a concern as there are populations of wild oats in the province resistant to three herbicide groups. Grassy herbicide control only comes from about 5 herbicide groups. In crop, you are mostly limited to Group 1 or Group 2 herbicides.”

Brook adds that herbicide resistance is not a problem that is going away. “Record keeping, planning and including all possible weed control tools is essential to herbicides effective into the future. Don’t abuse and overuse, it will get you in the end.”

For more information about this issue, register for the Herbicide Resistance: Coming to a Field Near You webinar, taking place Wednesday, December 12, 2018 at 10 a.m.

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Alberta Launches Three Canadian Agricultural Partnership Programs

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Three programs under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership) have been launched and are now accepting applications.

Science and Research theme programs

Accelerating the Advancement of Agricultural Innovation and Adapting Innovative Solutions in Agriculture are open and accepting applications. The due date for the first intake of applications is December 20, 2018. The program will continue to accept applications for the next intake.

Accelerating the Advancement of Agricultural Innovation supports activities that demonstrate the feasibility and potential for real world application of innovations that are new to Alberta or new to the agriculture sector.

Adapting Innovative Solutions in Agriculture is intended for innovative solutions that tend to be leading edge or excellent practice elsewhere and have not been adopted or adapted for use yet in the province. These innovations would then be adapted for use under conditions, or agriculture sectors, specific to Alberta.

Eligible applicants for both programs include active producers, non-profit agricultural groups, industry organizations, Indian Bands, Métis Settlements, post-secondary institutions and municipal governments.

The project application for both programs must include knowledge transfer and translation (KTT). Projects that are solely for the purpose of KTT are also eligible for these programs.

Go to Accelerating the Advancement of Agricultural Innovation and Adapting Innovative Solutions in Agriculture to find more information, terms and conditions, eligible activities and application forms for these programs. Contact the programs by emailing [email protected].

Emergency Preparedness program

This program is now accepting applications, and its purpose is to improve the capacity and readiness of industry and regional authorities to prepare for, and respond effectively to, emergency situations.

This program features four focus areas: plant health, livestock health, food safety and irrigation conveyance. It supports the Risk Management theme by improving the agriculture and agri-food sectors’ ability to anticipate, mitigate and prepare for risks that could have a major financial impact on the livestock and plant industries, affect the health and/or safety of people and water conveyance.

For detailed information, each focus area has its own contact:

Eligible applicants include municipalities, agricultural industries (including industry associations, boards, commissions, irrigation districts and registered associations representing irrigation districts or groups of irrigators), Indian Bands and Métis Settlements.

Go to the Emergency Preparedness Program webpage for more information, terms and conditions, as well as eligibility requirements. For general inquiries about the program, email [email protected].

In Alberta, the Partnership represents a federal – provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector. These programs are three of 15 offered in Alberta through the Partnership funding.

Find more information about the Canadian Agricultural Partnership in Alberta at cap.alberta.ca.

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

The Scoop on Seed Synergy

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An attempt to forge a next-generation seed system for Canada is gaining speed. Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening.

Canada’s seed industry has come together under the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project banner to collectively envision what a next-generation seed system in Canada could look like.

The project’s goal: develop recommendations and implementation plans that will enable a next-generation seed system. This system is meant to be a reformed, industry-led, government-enabled seed system that effectively attracts investment from businesses both large and small, fosters innovation, and delivers new and tailored seed traits to customers efficiently.

In Montreal, Quebec, in July, a Seed Synergy information session was hosted jointly by the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) and the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) to update members and get feedback on where the project is heading

A huge theme of Seed Synergy is the idea of a Single Window through which anyone and everyone involved in Canadian seed can access information.

At the same time, the goal of Seed Synergy is to propose a next-generation seed system to the federal government — in the form of a white paper anticipated this fall — in time for the government’s planned opening of the Seeds Act scheduled for 2020. It is this “window of opportunity” that the Seed Synergy partners seek to take advantage of.

4 Main Areas

The Seed Synergy partners have been focused on the whole system but in particular the potential impacts of:

  1. Streamlining member services into a “Single Window” — Acustomer service oriented means of providing information and conducting business with seed industry stakeholders.
  2. Enabling plant breeding innovation — Proposed is the idea of an industry-wide coalition that, in effect, would remove any unnecessary complexities resulting from the existence of three separate review offices which assess the food, feed and environmental safety of crops in Canada.
  3. Stimulating innovation and value creation — Following an extensive process through workshops, working groups and a task force of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Grains Roundtable two proposed models for value creation in cereals were tabled last fall: Producer-Facilitated Royalty Collection, also known as an End Point Royalty; and Royalty Collection Enabled via Contract, known as a Trailing Royalty. The CSTA Intellectual Property Committee voted at its annual meeting in Montreal in July to support the Trailing Royalty option. The federal government has announced public consultations will be held in November to discuss Plant Breeders’ Right changes that would be needed to support a value creation funding model.
  4. Next-generation traceability and seed certification framework — Seed Synergy proposes a public-private partnership with CFIA having overall responsibility for a modernized and streamlined version of the regulations, for enforcement, for monitoring and for international trade.

Is a Merger Possible?

The boards of our five dedicated seed associations — CSTA, CSGA, Canadian Seed Institute (CSI), Commercial Seed Analysts’ Association of Canada (CSAAC) and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency — have given preliminary direction to explore a possible merger of those organizations, in addition to a formal alignment with CropLife Canada modelled on the existing CropLife Canada-CSTA Memorandum of Understanding.

The intent is to create a streamlined model for information management, advocacy, service provision and provide greater value for the industry’s collective members, and — most importantly — to amplify the impact of the various complementary functions within the Synergy organizations.

The temporary “placeholder” name Seeds Canada is being used to reference this hypothetical single organization.

As a precursor to a possible merger of these five groups, CSI and CSAAC have indicated they’re looking at exploring a “pre-emptive” merger themselves.

Opinions from Wild Rose Country

Ron Markert

CSGA Board Member and President, Markert Seeds

On Reaching the Goal of a merger by 2020: “We knew things would be slow, but when you try and bring six organizations together, things take time. You have to remember this is solely exploration. We’re simply looking at the possibility of merging. We’re not saying this is what we’re going to do. With CropLife Canada being a part of it — but at the same time not being a part of it — we’ll see how it plays out. We’re on the tip of the iceberg now to see if we’re all on the same page and want to work together. Everyone wants to do it fast. I agree with doing it as fast as we can, but it takes time to talk to everyone and get their opinions.”

On the Interworkings of the Oversight Committee: “We’ve only had five one-hour conference calls. Each one is only an hour long. We’ve only met face-to-face twice. It’s proving to be a challenge to get everyone in the same page. One of the big issues is trust. We have to learn to do that, and it won’t happen overnight. One of the challenges we have at CSGA is the fact we have 3,500 members. We have a lot of people to communicate with before we can make a decision. For us that’s a year-long process. 2019 is the earliest anything can even be decided.”

Morgan Webb

President, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada and Owner, SeedCheck Technologies Inc.

On CropLife Canada Staying Independent in the Event of a Merger: “It’s not that CropLife is staying on the outside, they’re very much still a partner on the inside. They simply have more interests than just seed.”

On What he Expects from the White Paper Slated for this Fall: “The green paper did a lot to explore various possibilities but didn’t have a lot of detail and wasn’t vetted by each organization’s members like the white paper will be. Once we get further into detail, you’ll see everyone around the table really having a great discussion.”

Frontier Seed Cleaning Co-op Surpasses The One Million Bushels Mark, Doubling Its Volume In Five Years

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For the first time in its near 40-year history, Frontier Seed Cleaning Co-op Ltd. has processed more than one million bushels of seed and grain, surpassing all expectations of Ken Wiebe, the plant’s manager.

“We did almost 1.1 million bushels. It’s unbelievable. Every year you figure you can’t do any more, but it keeps increasing,” says Wiebe. “It’s a good feeling, but sometimes it’s very hectic considering the capacity — if you divide 300 to 350 bushels per hour by 1.1 million bushels that’s a lot of hours.”

Over the past five years, the plant has doubled its volume. In 2013, the plant processed roughly 500,000 bushels, and each year thereafter, increased bushel numbers by at least 100,000. One reason the plant topped one million bushels is its storage capacity.

Last summer, Wiebe installed two additional storage bins, increasing storage volume by about 7,000 bushels, bringing the plant’s total storage capacity up to 30,000 bushels. He also upped the plant’s operating times: during peak seasons, it runs around the clock. Wiebe figures about 3,400 hours went into processing 1.1 million bushels of oats, wheat, canola, peas, barley and lentils.

However, it’s the region’s increasing production acres driving the plant’s boom. “Our acres have increased. They’ve probably tripled over the last two to three years. A lot of new land is being put into production,” he says.

Also central to the plant’s processing growth is the organic industry. According to Wiebe, about 30 to 40 per cent of all organic producers in Alberta are growing crops in his region. The organic industry has significantly boosted production in the area for the last five years. As a certified organic facility since 2013, approximately 50 per cent of the plant’s processing can be attributed to this sector.

“The organic industry is big here,” says Wiebe. “This is what makes us money. We got our plant certified in 2013, and it’s been picking up every year.”

The plant currently cleans about 300,000 to 400,000 bushels of organic products per year, in addition to 20,000 to 30,000 bushels of conventional oat seed for distribution to organic producers.

Big Plans

Established in 1980, and sitting on two acres near the northern Alberta hamlet of La Crete, the plant has reached its processing capacity, says Wiebe, and he has no plans to increase the volume it can handle. “I’ve done everything I can do with this plant,” he says. However, Wiebe has got big plans for the future.

The ink has only just dried on the legal paperwork for the purchase of seven acres to house a new seed cleaning facility on the outskirts of La Crete. The plant manager hopes to break ground in three to four years for a state-of-the-art seed cleaning facility.

“When we do it, we want to go all out. We want to build a big, modern facility. That’s the goal we’ve set for now,” says Wiebe. He figures it’ll take a year from the start of construction to cleaning the first bushels of seed and grain.

Besides a brand-new building, Wiebe also looks forward to new, high-tech equipment, such as a colour sorter, and computerized operations.

“This is world-renowned oat country. We do lots of oats here, but then wild oats become a problem. We need a colour sorter. I can only take out a limited amount of wild oats — you need a colour sorter for the rest. That’ll be super exciting,” he says.

Presently, everything is as it should be at the plant: Wiebe has it running like a well-oiled machine. “Right now, we’re operating pretty smoothly. I don’t foresee any challenges unless the capacity gets way out of hand. Every year you think you can’t do more, and then you throw in another 100,000 bushels on top. It’s the struggle we’ll have for the next three to four years,” he says.

The only other potential pitfall is a downturn in organic markets, something Wiebe doesn’t dwell on. Instead, he remains focused on the tasks at hand, such as separating crop combinations.

The season begins to heat up for the plant manager in August, when farmers start combining. And, because intercropping is so popular in the area, separating oats and peas or barley and peas are fall projects on Wiebe’s to-do list.

Processing peas begins in August and lasts until the end of October. Then the Frontier crew starts on the rest of the seed cleaning. During the busy seasons, up to seven other staff members are on the payroll.

However, no matter the time of year or how many staff members are employed, an important focus of the business is customer care. According to Wiebe, establishing and maintaining good relationships with the producer community is important, especially because of the plant’s size.

“Our capacity is so small that we all have to cooperate. I have very good relationships with my farmers. I bend over backwards for them, and they for me. That’s very important because of the plant’s size and processing volume.”

 

Food Processing Development Centre Grows Province’s Food And Beverage Industries

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The Food Processing Development Centre (FPDC) is located in Leduc, Alberta.

The production of primary commodities and value-added products is vital to Alberta. Ensuring Alberta producers are getting best value for their products is part of the mandate of the province’s Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc.

The Food Processing Development Centre (FPDC) is a modern, fully equipped pilot plant and product development laboratory facility. Staffed with experienced food scientists, engineers and technologists, it is operated by the Food and Bio Processing Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF). Alberta Agriculture and Forestry provides unique facilities to provide development and research services for agri-food processing companies, as well as those interested in non-food uses for agricultural products.

“Entering the food industry is a capital-intensive venture, and the market has tight margins,” says Wanda Aubee, director of the Food Science and Development Section with the Food Processing Development Centre. “The intent of the centre is to reduce the risks that businesses take on as they enter the sector and start to grow.”

The food and beverage industry is Alberta’s largest secondary manufacturing industry, generating in excess of $13 billion in value of shipments. Through the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, AF opened the centre in 1984. A $5.5 million expansion to the facility was completed in 2002.

Over the past 34 years, a wide range of products have been developed at the centre, from processed meats and cheeses, to baked goods, juices, soups, sauces and baby food. According to Aubee, Alberta’s commodities are often processed outside of Canada, and in turn, the province then imports these value-added products.

“Alberta and Canada are net exporters of agricultural commodities, but Alberta benefits economically by doing value-added processing here rather than importing processed goods,” says Aubee. “Growing the value-added agricultural industry is complex, and the FPDC is one significant asset the province offers to support this transition from commodity-based exports to value added.”

The FPDC does work on projects from outside Alberta, but the majority of projects are Alberta-based. For instance, Siwin Foods Ltd. is one of the centre’s success stories. Siwin Foods is a Chinese company that was looking to establish a processed meat plant in either North America or Australia. According to Aubee, the services the FPDC offered made the decision for Siwin.

“They were able to work with the centre’s food scientists to develop products for the North American palate and to scale up their production in the pilot plant before moving into an incubator suite,” she says. “From there, they built their own facility in Edmonton in 2014 and continue to grow.”

Adjacent to the FPDC is the Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator (APBI), a multi-tenant facility providing infrastructure and services to support and enhance the establishment and growth of new companies and new business ventures in Alberta. The APBI assists with the start-up of new food businesses, providing facilities and programs to help manage the transition from new product development through commercialization, market launch and growth in sales, resulting in graduation and the establishment of their own facilities.

Alberta-based Aliya’s Foods Inc. was a small company producing and manufacturing samosas east of Edmonton. The company recognized the potential growth in Indian cuisine and wanted to expand their operation to include prepared ethnic meals. After accessing the product development and evaluation services of the FPDC, they leased a suite in the APBI.

“Now with sufficient production capacity, Aliya’s focused on the U.S. market and successfully increased their sales to the point where they committed to the investment in a new processing facility,” says Aubee. “In June 2012, Aliya’s Foods graduated to a new $20 million, 40,000 square foot processing facility in the City of Edmonton. Today, they continue to use the services of the FPDC for product improvements and line extensions.”

The FPDC and APBI have a staff complement of 45 people consisting of food safety professionals, food scientists, food technologists, maintenance and administration. The facility is home to PhD and Masters degree food scientists with specializations in crop and plant protein processing, meat processing, dairy processing, sensory science and bakery science.

“The future is very exciting for the food and beverage value-added industry,” says Aubee. “There is an incredible interest in food and flavour, and experimenting with new and innovative processes and products. People are experiencing food as a key part of their vacation destinations, as an influencer in their health and wellness, and as a teaching tool to bring their children closer to nature in urban environments. These are opportunities for entrepreneurs to meet the needs of the consumer and provide unique products made right here in Alberta.”

Going forward, the FPDC offers Alberta growers the opportunity to increase their acres and/or the possibility of growing new and novel crops in the province. Indeed, Aubee says the centre is seeking new and different sources of food protein to experiment with.

“As the world population grows, there’s an increased need for agriculture and agri-food products, and specifically, people are looking for alternatives to traditional protein sources,” she notes. “This is an opportunity for Alberta producers to increase their growing of pulses – it’s not only a great rotational crop, it has an incredible nutritional profile, it’s high in fibre and it’s really good for the soil. The FPDC has the equipment and expertise to explore what could be possible with plant protein, including extracting protein from grains and oilseeds.”

The FPDC is one of the largest food processing development centres in North America, and one of the most complete with the APBI. An expansion to the APBI was announced in 2016 as part of the Alberta Jobs Plan. Planning is currently underway for this expansion, offering Alberta growers – and companies – myriad opportunity to create added value to the province’s high-quality crop offerings.

 

Blazing a Trail: The Next Phase of the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards implementation

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The scope of the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards is about to expand. All commercial seed treatment operations, including those treating cereal and pulses, must successfully complete an audit of the standards by Dec. 31, 2020. Non-compliance will be enforced by an industry no-ship policy effective Jan. 1, 2021. Alberta Seed Guidespoke with Russel Hurst, CropLife Canada’s vice-president of sustainability and stewardship, about the journey ahead on the road to standards compliance and the effect implementation will have on industry stakeholders.

ASG: What has the journey been like so far toward implementing the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards?

RH: The whole process has been a unique journey. One of the program’s early drivers was to address environmental, health and safety protocols within the seed treatment sector. We viewed seed treatment, which was a rapidly expanding component within the pesticide sector, as a gap in our stewardship program.

This is a vibrant seed industry. If we have robust environmental, health and safety standards, we can stay away from onerous provincial and federal government regulations: in an ideal world, we can communicate that national standard to provincial ministries of agriculture and the environment and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency at the federal level.

The process may be led by CropLife, but we do a lot of briefings with seed growers, seed cleaning co-ops and seed companies to make sure their wants, needs and desires are met. At the end of the day, maybe not everyone is happy 100 per cent of the time, but we’re looking to this process to answer how we continue to culture a vibrant seed sector.

Generally speaking, we’re fairly happy with how 2018 turned out. By July, 382 facilities across the country, which is the majority of operations, had successfully passed the audit. About three dozen facilities are in the process of finalizing their audits, however, they didn’t get certified for the 2018 seed treatment year. Typically, those were facilities that weren’t treating corn, canola or soybeans, but have aspirations of doing so.

The largest number of certified facilities is in Manitoba, primarily because that’s where a high number of seed growers are located and it’s where the soybean business has expanded significantly over the last couple of years. That number will trend upwards in Saskatchewan and Alberta over time.

Any new facility coming online that wants to treat seed commercially — soybeans, canola, and to a lesser extent corn — in Western Canada, will have to complete an audit.

ASG: What are your observations from the first year of program implementation?

Russel Hurst

RH: In terms of the lessons we’ve learned from the audit process to date, we’ve had a very low level of compliance and enforcement issues. Individuals who did try to purchase designated seed treatment products from an ag-retailer usually weren’t fully aware of the requirements — it was more misinformation or misunderstanding rather than deliberate non-compliance.

We also learned the audit protocols must be meaningful to mobile seed treaters. When we first started auditing facilities we had a handful of mobile treaters — they were the exception. Within the audit protocols, roughly two-thirds are applicable to mobile treaters.

This fall, the working group will be going through those audit protocols to ensure they’re meaningful to mobile treaters because of the unique way their businesses operate.

We also see continuous improvement to a facility’s ability to do paperwork, training, education and documentation. That’s been the biggest gap throughout the entire process. All operators, and these are incredibly smart people, know their businesses very well. The biggest gap has been showing us that from an audit standpoint, through documentation. This is a work in progress. It’s something we’ll look to improve upon through templates, or by helping people help themselves.

Moving forward, we’ll likely see associations and registrants in the seed treatment business get more involved because they see it as an opportunity to help their members or customers.

One observation that took us by surprise is this process helps governments increase their levels of compliance with regulations, such as provincial licences for example. We can let an operator know they need a licence for X, Y or Z, but we do that in a safe way.

ASG: What is the path forward from now until the end of 2020?

RH: We’ll continue to use the designated seed treatment products list, which will get updated and reissued annually at a minimum. Typically, the list will be updated toward the end of October, as this is the time of year most new registrations coming online for the next crop year are completed. We’ll do this for the seed treatment years 2019 and 2020.

ASG: What happens beyond 2020?

RH: The program is going to change for 2021. The direction from our May CropLife board meeting was to implement phase II of the Seed Treatment Operation Standards program. We’re going to do away with the designated seed treatment products list. All commercial seed treatment operators — if you’re treating seed for sale or gain we deem you a commercial treater — will be required to go through and pass an audit by Dec. 31, 2020, to access seed treatment products. A no-ship policy will be implemented Jan. 1, 2021.

If you’re a farmer treating seed on-farm, continue to do what you’ve been doing. If you’re a commercial treater and you’re treating corn, canola and soybeans, continue doing your audits, you’ve already gone through that checkpoint. If you’re treating cereals or pulses commercially, by 2021 you must complete an audit.

For those seed treatment facilities in the cereals and pulse space, it’s going to be the same journey the corn, canola and soybean operators went through from 2014 to 2018. They’re just going to do it a couple years later.

In terms of preparing the industry for that, some of these sites have already completed a pre-audit as part of phase I. We will go through that same process for phase II of the program.

If you’re a commercial seed treatment facility that hasn’t gone through this process, we highly encourage completing a pre-audit. I am also fairly confident there will be some sort of pre-audit incentive.

The key piece about the pre-audit is the operator has a GAP assessment, so they have an incredibly clear understanding of what they’re doing now and what they need to do to pass an audit.

The message we try to convey is this doesn’t need to be a $10,000 investment, it can be significantly less than that. You just need to identify as an operator what best fits your operation. We do that as part of the pre-audit. We also supply templates for facilities, and we build a binder: we’ll provide the operator with the facility’s documentation requirements. Basically, operators need to fill in the blanks. They need to make it meaningful for their operations.

The purpose of the build-a-binder is for operators to understand the risks unique to their operations, to develop mitigation strategies and to understand where the risks impact them. It’s a journey sites go on of self-identification and things they can do to improve the environmental, health and safety impact of their operations.

The reality is, these types of programs aren’t going away: if we didn’t do it, there’d be government regulations in one form or another. It allows us to create our own destiny.

ASG: How does implementation of phase II affect industry stakeholders?

It gives farmers purchasing commercially treated seed an assurance that as of 2021 all facilities across the country, and currently the ones treating the noted commodities, adhere to an industry level of best practice. Farmers benefit from consistent, high-performing products, which in turn protects their investments.

Regulators benefit because their needs are being heard. And if when we act on those needs we’re doing it in a manner that is implementable and reasonable, they’re happy.

From the standpoint of commercial seed treatment operators, after they’ve gone through the process, I believe everyone will feel their operations were improved. Registrants will have an assurance their products are being used correctly from an environmental, health and safety aspect. Also, that their products are going to perform in the field — and for them that’s the holy grail.

Canola Breeder Dedicated To His Craft: Dr. Habibur Rahman Has Made Significant Contributions To The Industry

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Plant breeding wasn’t Dr. Habibur Rahman’s first interest. Indeed, Rahman initially thought he would get into the field of human or plant genetics.

But a chance conversation with a family friend convinced Rahman to enter an agricultural university after graduating from high school, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The eminent canola breeder first became interested in genetics when his high school biology teacher taught the class about the genetics behind human eye colour.

“I became very interested, learning about genes and chromosomes and cells. But when I finished high school, I thought I would study botany at university where I can get specialization in plant genetics,” he says. “But my brother’s friend suggested I attend an agriculture university that has a genetics department.”

Rahman attended Bangladesh Agricultural University, receiving his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with Honours in 1980 and his Master of Science in Agriculture in Genetics and Plant Breeding in 1982. He completed his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics at Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (now known as Copenhagen University) in 1988.

From January 1989 to September 2003, Rahman worked as a canola breeder/senior breeder with a Danish seed company, Danisco Seed. During this period, he developed (solely or jointly) 47 spring and winterBrassica napus canola, high-oleic and low-linolenic acid canola, and high erucic rapeseed cultivars for European and North American markets. At one time, one of his winter canola cultivars, Aviso, captured about one-third of the French market. This cultivar has been used as check for blackleg disease resistance by the French official authority.

In 2003, Rahman accepted a position to teach and lead the canola program at the University of Alberta (U of A). At the time he joined the university, clubroot emerged as a threat to canola production in Canada. He immediately began work on finding solutions, identifying clubroot-resistant Brassicagermplasm, introgressing resistance into Canadian B. napuscanola, mapping some of the resistance genes and, in collaboration with an industry partner, developing the first clubroot resistant canola cultivar carrying multiple clubroot resistance genes.

Over the past 15 years, Rahman has continued his mission to improve canola for Alberta and Canadian crop producers. He introgressed exotic genes/alleles from different exotic gene pools, such as European winter canola, Chinese semi-winter type and rutabaga, and allied species, such as B. oleraceaand B. rapa, into Canadian canola, and developed a canola cultivar by the use of genetically diverse materials. And he contributed to the knowledge of the value of different gene pools for increased seed yield in hybrid canola cultivars.

In addition, Rahman has:

  • Introgressed earliness of flowering from the C genome of the late-flowering species oleracea(Chinese kale) into B. napuscanola and mapped the flowering time genes and established their association with seed yield for use in breeding.
  • Identified the B genome chromosomes of carinatathat carry resistance to blackleg disease for the introgression into B. napuscanola.
  • Developed different fatty acid mutant lines of oleracea, including low-linolenic acid (C18:3), and characterized the C18:3 mutations at sequence level for use in the breeding of B. napuscanola.
  • Mapped several agronomic and seed quality traits and identified molecular markers for use in marker-assisted breeding.
  • Developed more than 120,000 SSR markers from the BrassicaA genome for use in breeding.
  • Developed (solely) four additional canola cultivars for commercialization in Canada.

Rahman says the continued evolution of plant breeding has been a boon to the industry. When he entered the plant breeding field, he said only the most traditional plant breeding techniques were in place.

“But then in the early 1980s, doubled haploid breeding came about, and it was very fascinating and interesting,” he notes. “Then in the late 1980s/early 1990s a new tool came – the use of molecular markers in plant breeding. This was a big change, and we’re increasingly using molecular markers today in plant breeding.”

Other changes Rahman has seen during his career are the development and use of transgenics traits, and the development of hybrid canola cultivars.

As science continues to grow by leaps and bounds, Rahman says we should see more integration of molecular markers and genomics tools in breeding of crop cultivars.

“We’ve had molecular markers for many years now, but it has not been integrated into most breeding programs that much,” he says. “I expect the use of marker technology to increase as costs decrease.”

When he’s not in the lab at the U of A, Rahman teaches an undergraduate plant breeding course, Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants, and the graduate course Plant Breeding. He has also been teaching the graduate course Seminar in Plant Science. Over the past five years, he’s graduated nine M.Sc. students and over the course of his 15 years at U of A, 13 M.Sc. and two Ph.D. students. He currently supervises four M.Sc. students and supervises or co-supervises four Ph.D. students. He also supervises two postdoctoral fellows, two research associates and three technicians.

Since joining the U of A, Rahman has published 45 papers in refereed journals and eight papers in conference proceedings (over his lifetime 65 papers in refereed journals, 14 in conference proceedings and one book chapter). He has received several research grants as principal investigator or co-principal investigator for conducting breeding research on canola in the areas of clubroot and blackleg disease resistance, genetic diversity and heterosis, earliness of flowering and maturity without yield penalty, clubroot and blackleg disease resistance, yellow seed colour and seed meal quality, fatty acid profile of oil and increasing seed oil content.

There’s no doubt Rahman possesses strong academic and commercial plant breeding expertise, and the combination of these two makes him a very unique plant breeder. He has made huge contributions to plant breeding research, to training of the next generation of plant breeders, and has made important contributions to the practical application of research for the development of commercial cultivars.

Despite a highly-successful plant breeding career, Rahman isn’t slowing down. He’s got plans and dreams.

“I hope to have more money and more time to do more research to integrate molecular tools in breeding,” he says. “And I’d like to see all students include a molecular component in their research and integrate this with breeding.

“I would also like to see more integration of molecular tools and research, including the finding of beneficial genes and alleles in Brassicavegetables and allied species, in the breeding of canola cultivars; lots of important genes and alleles can be found in Brassica– beyond the boundary of B. napuscanola. If I had a few million dollars, I’d put up a centre for this.”

No I in Team: Family and Customers Drive Solick Seeds Ltd.

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Len, Kelsey and Corwin Solick (Photo: Paul Sankar)

When speaking with Len Solick of Solick Seeds, it is clear there are two driving factors behind his business: his family and his customers.

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the family base,” Len says.

Backing up a few years — 30-plus years to be exact — Len was in the engineering field for quite some time, living in Edmonton as well as working in the Arctic.

“I was all over the place and had a couple of close encounters in the Arctic, and then I decided it was time to move on.”

Moving on included buying a farm in Halkirk, Alta. in 1978 after working a bit on his parents’ farm in Lacombe, Alta. “We started out as a commercial grain and cattle enterprise. Through transition, in 1986, I grew my first pedigreed seed crop. That was because of the Crow Rate — I saw freight would be an issue going forward. That was one of my main reasons for getting into the seed business — we were able to market off the farm. My grandfather was actually in the seed business quite a few years back. He was a founding director of United Grain Grower. My parents farmed southeast of Lacombe, grain and cattle … I guess I continued on in that direction.”

Moving onto the farm with their then one-year old son at the time, no one could predict that the family — and the operation — would grow.

Len’s wife, Lucy, and sons Kelsey and Corwin all work on the farm. Len says Lucy is behind the scenes doing a lot of the paperwork. Other than a full-time hire, and maybe an extra body for occasional help in the busy seasons, Solick Seeds is family owned and operated. Len and Lucy’s daughter Kim resides in Lacombe with her husband, Rieley and three children.

But on the farm, it is all about family teamwork.

Spring is the most hectic with seed delivery, seed pick up, and treating and seeding their own crops as well. Corwin and Kelsey do all of the seeding and spraying, and at harvest everyone is out there doing their part. One of the biggest labour demanding jobs is the cleaning of all operations whether it be the bins, equipment or machinery used; combines and grain dryer being the biggest jobs. Len says many hours are spent all year on this which most people do not realize.

Due to the difficulties to get hired labour, Solick Seeds opted to not set up their own seed cleaning operation. All of the seed is cleaned at the Forestburg Co-op Seed Cleaning Plant Ltd. This involves many hours of trucking, which both sons are involved in.

Len’s oldest son, Kelsey, is a heavy-duty mechanic by trade, and Len says Kelsey is an innovator when it comes to equipment. Kelsey looks after all the equipment, making sure that everything is ready and working. He also does most of the marketing.

As far as innovation goes, Len is aware the younger generation of farmers are keeping things moving forward in terms of customer service and ensuring Solick Seeds has everything its customers desire. He says without his sons, Solick Seeds would not be where it is today.

But as innovation advances the industry, Len says there is nothing better than touching base with his customers — personally. He knows how valuable his customers are, and he wants to ensure they are well taken care of.

“I love to talk to the people. I like to touch base afterwards — find out how things have been since the year has gone by. Sometimes I don’t get to everyone, but I like to touch base with them to see how a particular product has worked for them.”

During the winter months is when you would usually see Len on the phone, every night, catching up with his customers.

“I do a lot of that — people are more relaxed then and have a bit more time. Farmers are really good — if they don’t like the product they’ll tell you in about 30 seconds. On the other side, if it is our product we can improve on or if there is something else they are looking for, that gives us a couple of months to work toward a variety we can work into our rotation if we don’t have it. Len says they gain valuable information and assistance from many sources, but the Field Crop Development Centre and the Lacombe Research Centre has been exceptional.

In the springtime, Len says he is the guy in the yard. “I am there talking to my customer and I enjoy that the most because it gives me an idea as to what’s going on. Maybe I am not totally there loading the trucks, but I am at the scale or someplace.”

Len says he learns as much from his customers as they do from him. And that propels some of Solick Seeds’ business decisions.

“We take that information — after the sales year has gone by — and we sit down and say, ‘Okay, what can we do better to look after these customers?’”

Solick Seeds farms some 4,000 acres of pedigreed seed, including but not limited to peas, barley, wheat and spring triticale for its niche market. Commercial canola is also grown every year. Len is well aware of two key factors in the farming industry; you cannot make everyone happy all the time … and you can’t control the weather. But you can control your relationship with your customers and who you work with. And for Len, that is his reward after a hard day’s work.

Capturing Value, Funding Innovation

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Accessing superior genetics and seed is one way to ensure that Canada remains competitive in global agriculture. We talk with industry experts about the mechanics of funding innovation in cereals research through the concept of value creation/capture.

Many years of discussion about how to ensure more innovation in cereal seeds is finally coming to fruition.

Historically, cereal seed breeding has been dominated by public institutions, supported by taxes and producer contributions. Because of this, and because Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has indicated it will not be increasing its level of investment in cereal breeding, many industry players have been calling for a way to make sure private breeding firms are enticed to do more cereal breeding — by securing their return on larger investments.

Some time ago, a task forcecalled the Value Creation Working Group was created to look at the issues, and two leading funding models eventually emerged. One is a producer-facilitated royalty collection system of varieties registered after Feb. 27, 2015 (known as an end-point royalty). Royalties generated would be distributed to breeders based on a variety’s market share, possibly using existing collection systems. However, if a royalty is collected on seed, no royalty would be collected on harvested material.

The other contender — the preferred option of the Canadian Seed Trade Association’s Intellectual Property Committee — is a royalty collection system enabled by contracts, where breeders or their representatives use contracts when selling certified seed of varieties registered after Feb. 27, 2015. This system involves the collection of royalties on any farm-saved seed, known as a trailing royalty.

The latter is clearly the winner, reports Lorne Hadley, task force member and executive director at the Canadian Plant Technology Agency. “The seed industry has had long discussions about this over the last eight years and both the CSTA and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association have endorsed the model of trailing royalties,” he says. “Certain companies want to proceed with this and market this value to producers.”

Hadley notes that producers already decide what seed to buy based on expected value, and those varieties that have value and are priced appropriately will have the market share. “We are trying to put in place a system to start by using pedigreed seeds, and the best varieties among them get the most return.”

For his part, Darcy Pawlikbelieves the trailing contract model is the right one as it’s based on well-understood principles of by existing contract law. The head of the Syngenta Cereals Portfolio for North America and vice-chair of the CSTA’s IP Committee notes the trailing royalty option is ideal for all acres grown of the varieties in question to be tracked, and also provides flexibility for the breeder in terms of the parameters that can be set.

Rod Merryweather, CEO of FP Genetics and a member of several seed organizations, points out that this model could involve existing collection mechanisms already established by licensees of grain varieties, such as single-use contracts. He adds that the existing system for confidentially tracking every grower who uses midge tolerant wheat could be easily be adapted to collect trailing royalties.

“This system would also enable us to also track the use of certified seed, and make sure that a grower is not paying twice for the use of the variety.”

Another benefit of the trailing royalty model, says Merryweather, is that trailing royalties also enable differential royalties on different varieties and crops. He says differential trailing royalties would be competitive in that breeders would be fairly compensated for every use of the variety, with growers deciding to use new varieties where the royalty appears worth the investment.

How it Might Work

While there is much to still be decided on, Hadley notes that an efficient electronic contracting system is envisioned. Similar to how canola is marketed, distributors will decide if payments will be applied per acre or pound of seed. There will be no interference with provincial check-offs.

Pawlik believes the end result will draw on similar situations elsewhere. In his view, an effective system must include the ability to simply and transparently track seed sold and acres planted, and a flexible pricing mechanism associated with the value of individual varieties.

In Merryweather’s view, rollout of a trailing royalty system will be quite simple.

“A database would be developed or modified to fit the collection of purchase information on certified seed for every grower which would then identify every purchase of certified seed,” he says. “This information would be available to the licensee to administer the royalties. Growers would declare each year what crops have been planted and which variety was used to seed. After harvest, they would then declare production on each field.”

Growers would therefore ‘pay on production’ and companies would then invoice them for the trailing royalty after verifying certified seed purchases and deducting such purchases (a pre-determined amount) so there is no possibility of paying twice. “The licensee would have the right to audit a grower if there was any dispute,” he says. “All such audit costs would be charged to the licensee.”

 Hurdles

In Pawlik’s view, one of the largest hurdles would be a transfer of a significant portion of the costs associated with breeding activities to growers. But he believes that “so long as our objective remains truly aligned among the various stakeholders and parties in that we want to encourage greater investment by the private sector into cereal and pulse breeding, as well as the desire to have the strongest and most globally competitive ag sector, these hurdles can be overcome.”

Along with that, Pawlik believes there will be a continued requirement for engagement, transparency, cooperation and foresight. “This will be critical if we are to achieve the vision and reverse the tide of investment that is flowing to other jurisdictions at the expense of Canadian agriculture, farmers and competitiveness.”

As with any significant change, Pawlik notes that this new system will demand the acceptance of “a certain level of ambiguity,” as well as the “patience to ensure the system evolves to best serve the needs of the participating stakeholders.”

Tom Steve, general manager for the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, notes the idea of value creation hasn’t come without controversy.

“I hear from farmers that wheat is a lower margin commodity on their farm, but they don’t want to change anything. There’s a fundamental contradiction there. Of course, no one wants to pay more for seed if they don’t get an immediate return — they have a legitimate concern there,” he says. “But here’s the thing — we need to look longer term at where our competition is coming from, and where the yields and quality of our product need to go to be competitive long term. And the only way to do that is through value creation.”

One of the only hurdles Merryweather can think of is getting agreement on the development of one system to track all aspects of the trailing royalty from seed purchase to future use of the variety.

“However, we have done this with midge tolerant wheatstewardship and on single-use agreements, so it is not that difficult,” he reports. “However, we will need to be very transparent about how the system works so that there is trust in the system by all who use it. [We will also need to get] agreement from all interested parties to ensure that trailing royalties are fair and equitable.”

At this point, Hadley notes the task force is now reaching out to farming organizations such as Grain Famers of Ontario and Alberta Wheat Growers, and meetings and presentations are being scheduled. “Producers need clarity about how it will work,” he says. “The producer groups want to be sure that if they are paying more, they are getting more value…They just want the assurance that this program will actually increase the number of breeders and breeding programs going forward.”

Pawlik is among those who believe that will indeed occur.

“We can expect, over time, an expanded diversity of materials to make their way through the research stages and into new product development,” he says. “We will also see greater utilization of tools like marker assisted selection, double hapolids and, hopefully, new plant breeding innovations such as genome editing, for example.”

Value Creation: What do Farmers Think?

The chairmen of Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley say growers are largely uninformed and unsure about the conversation surrounding value creation in cereals.

Jason Lenz – Chairman, Alberta Barley

On whether growers are very informed on the topic of value creation:

“I don’t think farmers are very informed about any of these discussions about value capture, or furthermore, about the Seed Synergy initiative. Certainly, anyone involved within industry organizations are somewhat aware of it, but I don’t think the general farming public is aware at all.”

On why planned consultations regarding value creation are so important:

“As a commission we’re most concerned about the reasons behind value creation, and further, the details of the preferred collection model of the Canadian Seed Trade Association’s Intellectual Property Committee, that being the trailing royalty model. Right now, there’s not much detail. We suspect there will have to be a lot of administration built into it. What’s the plan for any sort of compliance or enforcement? We don’t have those answers to convey to our stakeholders.”

On what it will take for many growers to accept the idea of value creation in cereals:

“As chairman and a farmer myself, I understand the need to attract more private investment into wheat and barley breeding, but farmers need to see benefit from that. Whether it’s done through checkoffs or a royalty system, wheat and barley farmers need to see increased value come out of it and back into our operations. We need to see either significant yield improvement or improved disease resistance in wheat and barley varieties. I suspect that this will need to be viewed as a long-term investment by farmers.”

Kevin Bender – Chairman, Alberta Wheat

On why the topic of end-point/trailing royalties is controversial among growers:

“There’s a reluctance among farmers to have to pay yet another fee, and that is a historical phenomenon. Some growers are often critical about the high cost of canola seed, but yet most often the highest priced seed is the first to sell out. This is because our potential return on investment is better than it is with lower priced or older varieties. I think the same could be true for wheat. If there is value, growers will invest. By nature, we don’t want to pay more or see another deduction on our grain check unless it’s clear or proven that it will generate more profit.

On why many growers are not informed on the topic of value creation:

“No matter how hard we try to get the message out to stakeholders, it doesn’t always get there, or it doesn’t always get taken up. It’s a hard one.”