Genome of Wheat Ancestor Sequenced


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 Era


There are many different ways to evaluate bread quality as Combine to Customer participants discovered during a stop in Cigi’s pilot bakery. (Photo courtesy Cigi)

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.”

Kevin Bender

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.

JoAnne Buth

“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 weedkiller


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.


Source: Reuters

The bitter battle over the world’s most popular insecticides


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.


Industry Consolidation


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.

Marcus Weidler

“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.”

Jeff Nielsen

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.”

Trish Jordan

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.


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.

The Next-Generation Seed System


The CSGA and CSTA are two of six associations working to revamp how the industry functions.

If the seed regulatory system were an ocean, the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project can be thought of as a ship built to navigate that vast and sometimes perilous sea.

Aboard that ship are members of all six associations that make up the seed industry — the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI), Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), CropLife Canada, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC), Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA), and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA).

The project is currently developing a proposal for an industry-led and government enabled “Next Generation Seed System” in which competition encourages choice for producers and supports seed quality, while maintaining the commitment to safety that has always been inherent to the seed system in Canada.

Glyn Chancey

For CSGA executive director Glyn Chancey, the Government of Canada’s decision to support the creation of the CSGA in 1904 laid the foundation for the “industry led, government-enabled seed system” vision underpinning Seed Synergy, which seeks to develop a next-generation seed system for the country.

“The problem was we didn’t update our vision back then for how the seed regulatory system was going to evolve. While CSGA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and CSI have managed well to sustain and improve the current system, the seed industry has long needed a new vision, new investment and possibly new institutions to support its goals.”

That vision is taking form, and discussions on what industry would like a next-generation seed regulatory system to look like are ongoing. In this regard, some important conversations took place at the CSGA’s annual meeting in Halifax, N.S., back in July, where a broad cross-section of industry stakeholders met to hear a progress report and provide feedback on work to that point.

“As it broadens its basis of support, the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project is showing its potential to build consensus across industry and government for a more market-driven and industry-led seed regulatory system,” Chancey says. “In this context, CSGA sees an opportunity to contribute more fully and do so in partnership with others. We’re changing, but in a way that will remind people of the importance of what it is we do.”

The Seed Synergy project kicked into full gear after a series of annual meetings in 2016, at which the boards of all six associations gathered to discuss the project and how to move forward.

It will culminate in a series of recommendations that will be provided to the CFIA for the end of 2018, a tentative date set in March when the CFIA announced it is opening up Canada’s Seeds Regulations for review in order to “reduce overlap and redundancy, increase responsiveness to industry changes, address gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies, and provide clarity and flexibility to affected regulated parties for seeds imported, conditioned, stored, tested, labelled, exported and sold in Canada.”

Dave Carey, who took the reins on July 7 as the CSTA’s new executive director, says Seed Synergy is a key priority for him in his new role. Prior to assuming his new role, Carey was CSTA’s government affairs and policy director.

“We need to provide increased value to the membership as we head down the Seed Synergy path and be an important voice in the discussion,” he says.

Dave Carey

Carey takes over the executive director role from Crosby Devitt, who was a big proponent of the Seed Synergy initiative. Prior to leaving CSTA to serve as vice-president of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Devitt said the project allows CSTA to “create its future” and reach out to other associations and figure out how to better work together.

Carey agrees, but emphasizes the importance of CSTA moving forward as an independent entity while the Seed Synergy discussion goes on.

“Our first priority will continue to be our members. I think Seed Synergy will ultimately provide benefits to our members, but in the meantime CSTA still has a lot of our core work to do.”

The six associations involved in Seed Synergy are realizing there’s a convergence of many issues — communication, public trust, the need to have an influence over the industry’s future and the need for an efficient regulatory system.

Alberta farm and ranch OH&S recommendations open for comments


The Alberta government is updating the Occupational Health and Safety Code applying to farms and ranches, and are hoping to include common-sense regulations that protect waged, non-family workers while respecting the family farm way of life.

The technical working groups that reviewed the occupational health and safety rules have completed their work. Their recommendations are now posted online, and Albertans can provide their input.

Albertans can provide feedback online at and by emailing [email protected] before Jan. 15, 2018. Government will then begin drafting regulations based on both the recommendations and public feedback.

Occupational Health and Safety rules only apply to farm and ranch operations that employ waged, non-family workers. They do not apply to owners or family members of owners. As of Jan. 1, 2016, Workers’ Compensation Board insurance coverage is required for paid workers. All waged, non-family farm and ranch workers are covered under WCB.

Other key points:

  • Since Jan. 1, 2016, 2,125 new Workers’ Compensation Board accounts have been opened by agricultural producers employing waged, non-family workers.
  • Of the approximately 40,638 farms and ranches in Alberta, 9,565 reported hiring waged, non-family workers in 2016.
  • A total of 33,498 farm and ranch workers were employed in paid work on a full-time, part-time or temporary/seasonal basis in 2016.
  • As of June 30, 2017, more than 1,200 workers have had their claims accepted by WCB.


The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, passed in December 2015, brings the protection and compensation of waged, non-family farm and ranch workers in line with similar protections in other sectors and other Canadian provinces.

In May 2016, six technical working groups began developing recommendations on how employment standards, labour relations and occupational health and safety requirements could be applied to meet the unique needs of the agriculture industry.

The working groups were chaired by an independent and impartial individual with mediation, consensus and board governance experience. The groups included technical experts and representatives from the agricultural sector and labour groups.

The recommendations and feedback received from the technical working groups that reviewed employment standards and labour relations were considered as government developed The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act which passed on June 5, 2017.

The technical working groups that examined how the Occupational Health and Safety Code could be applied to farms and ranches have submitted their reports to government. The feedback sought is separate from the review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act announced on Aug.16, 2017.

Taxation Stress Builds


Taxation changes in Alberta and across Canada continue to cause confusion and stress with farmers. To help make sense of it all, Alberta Seed Guide turned to Rebecca Sanford, CPA, CA, a senior manager and tax specialist with KPMG in Lethbridge. Rebecca works with farmers and their families on taxation matters, including advising them on personal and corporate tax, and estate succession and business planning.

Alberta Seed Guide: How has taxation for farmers changed over the past three years?

Rebecca Sanford: A lot has changed for farmers over the past three years. Almost every year, the federal government adjusts the personal income tax brackets slightly. When I think of big changes, however, I immediately think of 2015. That year, the Government of Alberta decided to implement a graduated personal tax rate for all Albertans. Before this was introduced, a farmer who reported his/her income as a proprietor or a partner would have a combined federal and provincial tax rate of 39 per cent. In 2017, this income tax rate has increased to 48 per cent. Likewise an increase in personal tax rates on non-eligible dividends paid from a privately owned farm corporation increased from 30.8 per cent in 2015 to 41.2 per cent in 2017.

Additionally, Alberta’s farmers have seen an increase in the personal tax they pay when they sell assets like farmland and realize a capital gain on the sale. While the capital gains deduction was increased in 2015 from $813,600 to $1 million, if a farmer owns more than $1 million in farmland, he or she will need to pay tax on the portion of the capital gain that is not sheltered by his/her capital gains deduction. In 2015, a farmer with a capital gain of $304,000 or more could expect to pay federal tax and provincial tax at 20.13 per cent. In 2017, the same $304,000 capital gain would be subject to tax at 24 per cent. This is a 3.87 per cent increase over the past three years.

On the corporate side, in 2015 the federal government stated it would decrease the small business tax rates from 11 per cent to nine per cent by 2019. The federal government has worked towards doing this, with a decrease to 10.5 per cent effective Jan. 1, 2016, and further decreases proposed as per Finance’s Oct. 16, 2017 press release (10 per cent effective Jan. 1, 2018, and nine per cent effective Jan. 1, 2019). Additionally, the provincial tax rate for small businesses has been decreased from three per cent to two per cent effective Jan. 1, 2017. This means that farmers are now paying 12.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of income their corporations earn. For farm corporations that earn $500,001 or more, the combined corporate tax rate has increased from 26 per cent in 2015 to 27 per cent in 2017.

The association rules, which outline who has to share the $500,000 small business deduction, were also revised to make it harder for related farming corporations to each individually access the small business deduction. The rules relating to transferring assets between siblings and their corporations were also revised. This means family farms corporations need to make sure they have accurate advice when moving assets such as farmland between companies. Being offside on these rules could result in significant tax implications.

The taxation to farmers who own eligible capital property (ECP), such as water rights and quota, went through a dramatic shift effective Jan. 1, 2017. This resulted in new rules farmers are subject to when selling or purchasing ECP, some transitional rules for farmers who purchased ECP on or before Dec. 31, 2016 and sold it after Jan. 1, 2017, and a new regime for deducting ECP expenses against farm income.

Finally, although it wasn’t a tax change, I feel that Bill 6 was another big change for farmers. In 2017, the farming industry rate per $100 of insurable earnings ranges from $1.70 to $2.97.

ASG: Why are these changes significant and how does it affect farmers in the province?

RS: Obviously, these changes are significant to Alberta’s farmers because they have resulted in higher personal and corporate tax rates. Taxes aside, these changes could also impact a farmer’s decision on whether to incorporate his/her operations, purchase new farmland using a corporation or own it personally, or transfer the farm down to the next generation or sell it to the neighbour.

Furthermore, some of the changes, such as the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) changes, put additional filing and compliance responsibilities on farmers. Uncertainty regarding what your responsibilities are if one of your employees is hurt while on the job could be detrimental to a farming operation.

ASG: What can farmers do to mitigate these changes?

RS: Education is key to manoeuvring through change. Talk to your adviser any time there is a change that you think could impact your farming operations. If your adviser does not know how the change could impact you and your operations or cannot offer a solution on how to respond to things, get a second opinion. There is no harm in having a discussion with another adviser to understand what has changed, how it could impact you and your operations, and most importantly, provide you with some comfort over how you are managing the change.

ASG: Can commodity groups play a part in helping farmers work through ongoing taxation changes?

RS: Absolutely! Commodity groups work for farmers by lobbying and advocating on their behalf and making the various levels of government aware of how change impacts their members. Many commodity groups were members of committees who worked to show the Alberta government how Bill 6 would impact the farming communities. Currently, almost every commodity group I can think of has put forth submissions to the Department of Finance regarding the July 18, 2017 proposed tax changes. Commodity groups are also a great way of putting farmers in touch with the experts who can offer insight into the changes and provide practical solutions on how to manage the change.

ASG: What does the future look like for further changes? What is going to impact farmers in the immediate future?

RS: There are a number of changes that the Minister of Finance has put forth that could impact the future taxation of farmers, including:

  • The elimination of deferred grain cash tickets,
  • Restricting who can use their capital gains deduction on the disposal of qualified farm property, and
  • The corporate taxation of passive income in excess of $50,000 (i.e. rental income from farmland, seismic payments, and oil and gas).

It should be noted that all of the above are only proposals put forward by the Minister of Finance. In mid-October, the Minister issued three separate press releases stating that some of the changes they proposed on July 18, 2017 are now being adjusted or removed. But as of this writing, no further draft legislation has been released. That makes it very hard to really understand what Finance has changed.

The farming community needs to be aware of how each item could impact their current operations and their future plans. It is important for every farmer, regardless of whether they farm in a proprietorship, a partnership, a joint venture or a corporation, to speak with an adviser who is well-versed in these areas and who can help develop a plan on how to address these potential changes.

Similarly, the proposed changes in Bill 17, which will be effective Jan. 1, 2018, will force farmers to consider things like minimum wage, vacation pay and statutory holidays. As with the proposed income tax changes, discussing the impact of Bill 17 on your operations with your adviser will help you understand what you need to have in place by the New Year.


Agricultural Research Up in the Air


When the Alberta government released its provincial budget in March, it was met with mixed emotions by those in the agriculture sector.

While the budget contained an increase of one per cent in overall agricultural spending, it prompted questions about the level of funding for certain key areas in the sector.

One of the biggest concerns of many producers was a lack of commitment to adequately fund agricultural research in the province, including an absence of funding for the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund beyond 2018.

Those concerns have only increased since, as the Alberta government has begun a review of provincial services including the province’s agricultural research program. While the results of this review aren’t expected until next April, some fear it could result in a significant cut to provincial funding for agricultural research.

“In my mind, it’s very likely that cuts will come,” says Ross McKenzie, a retired research scientist who worked for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry for 38 years.

“It’s easy to cut research. When research is eliminated it’s often not very obvious immediately, but it does have repercussions down the road if farmers are looking for information and that work is not being done. That puts Alberta farmers at a huge disadvantage.”

McKenzie says one of the challenges for researchers is that the value of their work often isn’t appreciated until many years down the road. He cites the example of soil research with phosphate fertilizer and phosphorus soil testing that was conducted in the province in the 1990s; it cost nearly $400,000 at the time, but has provided millions of dollars in benefits to growers each year.

“It might sound like a lot to spend $300,000 or $400,000 on a research project,” he says. “[But] that work is now used by all the soil testing labs to help farmers decide how they should be spending $300 or $400 million a year on phosphate fertilizer. That’s a huge benefit.”

This is hardly the first time concerns have been raised about the fate of agricultural research in the province. In 2001, a research review resulted in about half of Alberta ag researchers either being cut or shifted to other departments, and extension work was curtailed – a huge loss for Alberta farmers. More recently, in 2014, the provincial government eliminated the Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment Fund.

Jason Lenz, chair of Alberta Barley, says one of his concerns is that any potential cuts to provincial funding for research will place pressure on producer groups like his to help fill the void.

“Without government funding, it puts the onus on producer groups to fully fund the future of research and innovation, and it becomes [more] difficult,” Lenz says. “We’ve demonstrated that we can and will work with any government in order to give Alberta’s farmers a competitive advantage. Everyone benefits when we work together with government and public breeding institutions to give farmers a chance to have success.”

Terry Young, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission’s research committee, says the cost of agricultural research can be extremely high and that makes it prohibitive for producer groups to go it alone. He says it’s vital that groups can leverage government funds to get the biggest bang for their research buck.

One of Young’s biggest concerns about potential cuts to ag research funding is that it could slow research into new technologies which could then have a trickle-down effect on farms.

“What I can see is that some of the newer technology may not get accepted or adopted as readily. It would take a longer time for the research to happen and for the technology to become part of best management practices,” he says.

Young uses the example of recent research on Fusarium head blight in cereal crops as an example of how producer groups working with the province has benefitted growers.

“It’s expensive, expensive research,” he says. “[But] because there’s been an emphasis to actually understand it a whole lot better, the research there will help us and give us some great dividends eventually.”

Ward Toma, general manager of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, says it would be virtually impossible for producer groups to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to fighting disease and adopting new technologies without government research dollars. He cites past work done to develop blackleg resistance by University of Alberta researchers as an example, as well as the ongoing fight against clubroot.

“Some of the estimates are that [the cost] is in the tens of millions of dollars. Growers can’t afford that. We don’t even have the money to survey and monitor to see if clubroot exists across the province or not. We just wait for it to show up in our fields,” he says.

Caroline Sekulic, vice-chair of the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, says while cuts to agricultural research might not be noticed immediately, they could have long-lasting consequences. She fears reduced government funding could result in more scattered results for regional variety trials and prompt some of the province’s best researchers to go elsewhere.

“If we can’t provide opportunities and research for them in this province… we could lose them,” says Sekulic, who is also a seed grower with Prestville Farms in Rycroft.

Sekulic says she and other pulse growers have benefitted enormously from working in partnership with the province. Two recent research projects – an investigation into agronomic practices to remove barriers for growing faba beans, and improved resistance to sclerotium disease in edible dry beans – might not have been possible without government support, she adds.

While some have suggested turning over this type of investigation to applied research associations could resolve any cash crunch, McKenzie suggests doing so isn’t without risk. He says one of the greatest concerns with research associations is they tend to work in isolation – they often don’t work together to conduct research projects on a province-wide basis. And, he adds, research associations don’t have their results posted on Alberta Agriculture’s website, so it’s difficult to find out who is doing research and what their results are showing.

“One of the reasons why I like to see the provincial government do it or the federal government is the research is done by unbiased people. They have no vested interest in how the results turn out,” says McKenzie. “You get a good, full picture as opposed to sometimes getting a skewed or biased perspective from an industry person.”

The challenge for many producer groups at the moment is they have already begun planning how to spend research dollars in 2018 but likely won’t know until spring what, if any, provincial government funding will be available.

“That is a concern,” Young says. “We’re going to need to know pretty quick. The funding cycle starts in January. The commitments are starting to be made by then for the next year so we need to know exactly what’s going on.”

Ed. note: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry declined to comment for the story.