Is there one ideal variety registration model that every country should adopt? Variety registration is not a one-size-fits-all scenario but there are certain characteristics that every variety registration system should have: flexibility and a market-driven focus.
A responsive and efficient seed regulatory system contributes to the success of a country’s crop production sector. However, each country has its own regulations when it comes to variety registration.
As the seed industry evolves, it’s becoming more clear that while these variety registration systems around the world can differ, one common theme needs to exist for seed industries to ensure their end users are successful — a flexible variety registration system that meets the needs of the various value chains of the many different crops found in that country.
Streamline the System
“Varietal registration systems can slow farmer access to new, improved varieties,” says Bernice Slutsky, senior vice president of domestic and international policy for the American Seed Trade Association. “Modernizing and streamlining the system, no matter the country, will be important so that farmers have a wide array of options.”
To that end, the Canadian government has taken a leadership role. This past year it began reviewing Canada’s crop variety registration system with the goal of streamlining it.
Stakeholders were asked to consider four alternatives in an issues and policy paper prepared by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Grain Commission. Options ranged from allowing flexibility in the current, recently revised system to eliminating the federal government’s role in the variety registration process completely.
The following results were collected after the comment period ended in November:
• Allow the flexibility inherent in the current variety registration system to emerge, which was supported by 37 percent of respondents.
• Streamline the regulatory process by requiring that all crops meet minimum registration requirements with the option for some crops to have merit assessment through an independent assessment process, which was supported by 27 percent of respondents.
• Streamline the regulatory process by maintaining a minimum level of federal government oversight, and eliminate any merit assessment or performance data under the variety registration system, which was supported by 17 percent of respondents.
• Withdraw the federal government’s role in variety registration, allowing industry or third parties to assume these functions, which was supported by 13 percent.
Now that the results have been distributed, Patty Townsend, CEO of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, says, “the next steps are to develop a proposal for consideration by the minister, but we do not know what the time frames will be.”
CSTA has released a policy statement, which highlights various points that should be incorporated. CSTA requests that any revisions to the variety registration system maintain current exemptions from registration such as corn and the ability to exempt crop species, types and kinds from registration (with a first priority of exempting oilseed type soybeans from registration). In addition, the policy statement calls for all crop species, kinds and types to be placed in Part 3 of Schedule III of the Seeds Regulations, providing government oversight but re-moving merit requirements and the need for a recommendation from a recognized recommending committee, except where the value chain for the crop kind provides the rationale and consensus for the crop kind to remain in Part I or Part II. If crop kinds are to remain in Part I or Part II, new operating procedures for making a registration recommendation must be developed to ensure an efficient, flexible and predictable system.
“AAFC, CGC and CFIA are reviewing the results to help inform the development of a streamlined variety registration system,” says James Watson, AAFC media analyst.
Canada’s options paper on variety registration and the results assessment were done by a working group of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Grain Commission. The group has just released its summary of the consultations, which is available at: agr.gc.ca
Meet the Market’s Needs
Ken Nelson, president of Alberta-based K L Nelson Associates Inc. and breeders representative for KWS-UK, says Canada has work to do to improve its variety registration process. He feels the Canadian system needs to be market-based versus regulatory-based.
“The system in Canada is regulatory-based, whereas the United States and Australia have market-driven systems,” he says. “The marketplace should determine what is grown. Farmers are smart; they can make decisions on which varieties to plant.”
While it’s hard to compare variety registrations from country to country, Nelson says that as nations look to stream-line their systems, they need to look around the world for successes and then apply that to their own needs — all while keeping the market in mind. “Is variety registration in line with the needs of the commercial industry? That’s what we need to ask,” he says. “Can new varieties come through the system fast enough to meet the needs of the marketplace? Variety registration systems have to be highly responsive.”
The United States doesn’t have a formal variety registration system in place, but relies on the marketplace to determine which varieties best meet the needs of farmers.
“It’s preferable to offer the market and farmers ample freedom to make varietal choices and allow the market to drive decisions about which varieties can be purchased,” Slutsky says. “This system allows new varieties to be more quickly introduced into the market and adopted by farmers, thus giving farmers more immediate access to the benefits of new advances in breeding.”
But governments and industries must keep in mind the varying dynamics at play from country to country. There’s no one variety registration or variety commercialization model that will meet the needs of every country.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
“There is no ‘one model,’ even within Canada,” Townsend says. “The variety registration system needs to be flexible to accommodate the needs of the value chains of the many different crops in Canada. For example, for some crops, the needs are for a regulated system that evaluates performance and quality, while other crops have no need for variety registration.
“We need a flexible, transparent and nimble system that can ensure our plant breeders and variety developers have the tools they need to give farmers and their customers access to varieties that best suit the needs of their businesses,” Townsend adds.
According to ASTA’s Slutsky, Canada’s variety registration system is headed in the right direction.
“If a country chooses to have a variety registration system, the goal should ultimately provide farmers with options of the newest, highest-quality seed possible to optimize success and productivity,” she says. “If a variety registration system is not consistently implemented, is not objective and is not timely and predictable, farmers’ options for variety selection will be limited.”
What does the variety registration process look like for corn
Canada: Corn is exempt from variety registration because the value chain requested exemption in 1996. Although corn is not subject to variety registration in Canada, the seed of field corn must be of pedigreed status to be sold in Canada.
Argentina: Varieties used in counter-seasonal production do
China: China has a mandatory variety registration system that
United States: A formal variety registration system does not
October Issue 2014
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