A New Year, a New World

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As Donald Trump prepares to lead the Free World, the Canadian seed industry is set to begin turning itself on its head.

 

As 2017 begins, so does a major initiative to turn the Canadian seed industry on its head. Seed Synergy is a project looking at how the sector can improve itself in a rapidly changing world.

According to leaders of the industry’s major representative groups, including the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) and Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA), the federal government has indicated changes to Canada’s seed legislation are on the horizon.

That, of course, usually means some sort of “streamlining” of the process. Last February at the annual meeting of the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC) in Saskatoon, federal government representatives (including Mike Scheffel, who shortly afterward moved to the CSGA to be its policy director) told the assembled crowd that this streamlining was on the horizon for the PGDC, as well.

PGDC recommending committees have been asked to reduce their number of voting members to give “Canadian farmers faster access to the newest cutting-edge varieties,” according to the AAFC website.

Mark Forhan, an AAFC representative, said that while he wasn’t prepared to offer up a specific number for how many voting members the committees should have, he told PGDC members that current numbers are too inflated and should be reduced.

Ron DePauw, a world-renowned retired wheat breeder who’s now a science adviser for SeCan, was one of many who says he fears reducing the number of voting committee members would weaken the committees and place more decision-making power in the hands of fewer people.

DePauw has an excellent point. It certainly seems the world is heading in this general direction. Downsizing and “streamlining” is the order of the day for just about everyone, except, of course, for government itself. Taxpayer-funded bureaucracy seems just as beefed-up as ever, while the rest of us are told to tighten our belts and get ready for tough times ahead.

We must work hard to feed a world of nine billion people by 2050, and we should thank farmers for doing this wonderful service, we like to say. Statements like that get a lot of likes on social media.

Before 2016 came along, such an outlook might be dismissed as simple pessimism or negativity. But the election of Donald Trump as United States president seems to have changed all that. Suddenly, as far as public consciousness is concerned, anything seems possible. If something as monumental as a Trump presidency can actually come to fruition after millions said it could never happen, then we had all better prepare ourselves for an uncertain future and take the bull by the horns.

Which is why Seed Synergy is such an exciting project. CSGA Executive Director Glyn Chancey, who I spoke with just prior to the holidays, said while the project will be ongoing for a long time and he won’t have any reportable results until the spring of 2017, it’s ultimately about “building a framework for discussion around what needs to change in order to ensure the next wave of technology is translated into business opportunities and wealth creation.”

An apt statement, and one that seems very appropriate for a time when we all seem to be looking to the future not with pie-in-the-sky optimism, but with practicality.

I attended a Syngenta-sponsored media summit in North Carolina last fall, just days before the U.S. presidential election. C. Dean McGrath, a former deputy chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, echoed Trump’s quote that “family farms are the backbone” of the United States.

Toward this end, Trump has proposed positive farm policy initiatives, including tax cuts that protect family farms and ranches, McGrath said. “Farming is a business that will benefit from Trump’s proposal to cut corporate taxes and limit government regulation.”

We often talk about agriculture in a romantic way. We must work hard to feed a world of nine billion people by 2050, and we should thank farmers for doing this wonderful service, we like to say. Statements like that get a lot of likes on social media.

To an extent, it’s true, and we all should thank farmers for their hard work. But farmers — at least the ones in developed nations like Canada and the United States — don’t farm to feed people. Farming is a business, as McGrath pointed out, and they’re in this business to make money. And the ones who really know what they’re doing make a lot of it.

It’s the reason we all go to work each day, whether we farm or not — to survive in an often nasty world. And it’s the reason Seed Synergy is so important and will be something to watch in the coming months and years. Stay tuned — the New Year has just begun.

—Marc Zienkiewicz is a Canadian journalist and editor covering the seed industry

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