As the leading voice of Canada’s seed sector, seeds Canada represents a wide range of stakeholders along the seed value chain: growers, breeders, analysts, distributors, and processors.
By Lisa Kopochinski
Five years ago, an idea was germinating to bring organizations together to create one new, national seed association. Seeds Canada officially sprouted on Feb. 1, 2021 and has been working to bring together the diverse expertise and interests of the industry under one roof to offer increased value to the country’s seed sector from coast to coast and internationally.
“With many challenges facing the industry, Seeds Canada is currently working on two major files – Seed Regulatory Modernization and Plant Breeding Innovation – in the effort of reviewing and changing, where needed, the legislation and regulations to improve the system for all users,” says executive director Barry Senft.
Seeds Canada is an amalgamation of four partner organizations: the Canadian Plant Technology Agency, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, Canadian Seed Institute, and the Canadian Seed Trade Association. At present, there are more than 200 members in Canada and worldwide.
“While the organization is still in its infancy, Seeds Canada has carried on much of the roles and work that the legacy organizations were performing for their members and clients,” explains Senft.
Having all players of the seed industry under one banner allows for Seeds Canada to move forward with a clear focus and direction to address the needs of the seed sector.
Seed’s Canada farmer’s perspective
Quentin Martin is a Seeds Canada executive committee member and co-owner of Cribit Seeds, a family farm operation of seed growers located near West Montrose, near Waterloo.
“In some ways, the timing wasn’t bad during a pandemic because so much of what we are doing can be done virtually,” he says. “Without the encumbrance of trying to get together physically, this has made for a more efficient process.”
When asked what the benefits are that members receive, Martin pauses.
“That’s a tough question because most of the work that Seeds Canada does should be fairly inconspicuous.
“We’re the organization in the background making sure that sensible processes are in place to allow company’s brands, plant breeders (public or private), and all those engaged in the process of getting seed from an idea, to a lab, to a finished product that has been tested and registered, processed and treated, and into a bag.
We’re just that collective organization in the background that is helping to usher that through regardless of whose brand it is or which plant breeder (public or private).”
To the farmer, Martin says, “Seeds Canada is not changing the weather, but rather laying down and establishing an efficient system in the background. What should be obvious over time is that high-performing genetics are getting to growers a little sooner. Ultimately, we should be able to streamline those process flows in the background.”
Nick Sekulic operates Prestville Farms Ltd. with facilities located at Highway 2 and four miles south of Rycroft, Alta., approximately 70 kilometres north of Grande Prairie. This family farm dates back to 1939 when his parents and grandparents immigrated to Canada from what is now Croatia. The principal activity of Prestville Farms is seed and commercial canola production.
“We grow oats, barley, wheat and various classes of those, in addition to yellow and green peas and fava beans,” says Sekulic. “We provide seed to the marketplace, with the exception of canola.”
Historically, the farm proprietorship was a mixed farm. In 1999, it was organized into two operations: Prestville Farms Ltd. and Prestville Cattle Company Ltd.
“We started that six or seven years ago and demand grew very strongly for the new varieties of the crops that we were growing up here. Three years ago, we commissioned a new seed cleaning and seed treating facility with an integrated grain dryer. The new dryer offers a design which is easier to clean and maintain genetic purity, while offering high throughput and excellent seed quality. We have built a full-service seed business and it’s been good with strong regional demand.”
Sekulic says when he became more involved in the seed industry, he began to join organizations that represented growers. “I sat for a number of years on the board of the Alberta Seed Growers. As a seed grower, I am also a member of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.”
As a board member, he says the organization recognizes a broader element of the industry as it includes other key parts of the value chain. That is, seed technologists, developers, growers, and processors like himself.
“This is a group that can be instrumental in ensuring that our seed industry continues to offer the best value that it can for farmers and producers through a good value equation where genetics allow our producers to be competitive. It’s not competitive amongst ourselves. It’s competitive in terms of supplying the crops we produce in the global marketplace and the North American marketplace.”
Sekulic adds that he believes Seeds Canada – in its amalgamated fashion – is an efficient way to represent the industry and ensure that there are cost-effective programs and services, as well as strong advocacy on issues that pertain to the seed value chain including the primary producer.
“There are different crops, regions and technologies. What we do in the West is different from what they do in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. I’m a true believer that our industry needs to develop solutions to our own challenges rather than expecting some government department or bureaucracy to attempt to solve them for us.”
Much Seeds Canada work is funneled through its three committee types:
- The Operational Committees oversee the organization’s governance and finances. They are Executive, Audit and Finance, and Governance and Nominating.
- The Steering Committees – Advocacy and Communications, Business Services, Diversity and Inclusion, and Seed Testing and Quality Assurance – are strategic committees that meet regularly to review the operation and performance of member and client services and provide direction on key projects.
- The Policy and Issues Committees are the direct route for members to bring specific issues forward to Seeds Canada staff and board. The committees are Biotechnology; Corn, Soybeans and Eastern Cereals; Forage and Turf; Garden and Vegetable; Intellectual Property; International; Oilseeds, Pulses and Western Cereals; and Seed Applied Technologies.
The board of directors focuses on approving strategy, operational plans, budgets and ensuring that the voices of the full value chain is represented, from small-scale operations to international companies.
At its virtual inaugural annual meeting in July, a wide range of policy priorities and issues impacting the sector were discussed.
“While the current business plan served the organization well to this point, it is now time to work on the ‘how,’” says Senft. “That is, the development of priorities and strategies needed to achieve its goals.”
Adds Martin, “What is apt to happen is that you make additions and changes over time.
“Unless you do a full stop at some point and a comprehensive review, you don’t really have the opportunity to clean up some of the stuff that has just collected in the corner of the garage, so to speak.” BF
CANADA’S SEED SECTOR
- Seed is the start of it all – the entire agriculture and agri-food value chain – an industry that is vital to the economic well-being of Canada, an industry that contributes more than $110 billion annually to the Canadian economy and provides one in eight jobs.
- The seed industry alone contributes nearly $6 billion to the economy, employs nearly 63,000 Canadians and exports more than $700 million annually to nearly 100 countries.
- Canada’s top five seed exports are corn, soybeans, beans, lentils, and peas.
- Our largest trading partner is the U.S. which receives over 60 per cent of Canadian seed products. The next largest partners are China, Japan, the Netherlands, and India.
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that nine out of every 10 bites of food taken by people around the world start with the planting of a seed.