Seed World

Variety Registration in Western Canada | January 2014


Variety Registration in Western Canada — Balancing Quality with Growth


Brian Beres, chair, Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale; research scientist – Agronomy, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, Alta.

To remain a global competitor, wheat production systems in Western Canada must continue to evolve, with higher rates of sustainable production, while maintaining quality specs that appease end users around the world. Realized yield is roughly derived equally between genetic potential and agronomic practices, so access to higher yielding genetics integrated with modern production systems is critical along with the removal of impediments to growth and innovation. One area receiving attention is the variety registration process for wheat in Western Canada. Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz initiated a review of variety registration and held broad stakeholder consultations this past fall to ensure the process encourages innovation and growth.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency delegates authority for the recommendation of new varieties to an industry panel of wheat experts whose membership is comprised from all sectors of the industry. This panel, the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (PRCWRT), uses merit criteria for disease, quality and agronomics to render judgement of candidate varieties and ensure they meet or exceed current varieties using a science-based merit system for registration. While the PRCWRT is not a regulatory body, it provides a gatekeeper role to ensure that new varieties meet or exceed check varieties representative of current production and end-use specs. The goal is to ensure wheat varieties are cultivated without causing environmental or economic harm by using a science-based merit system for registration. An aspect unique to Canada is the simultaneous system of merit assessment and market class designation, which facilitates rapid deployment of new cultivars and higher rates of adoption than other countries where this process is decoupled.

While our yield gains are currently on par globally, we must strive to do better. This can happen through increased investment and greater participation from all value chain stakeholders. To fulfill Minister Ritz’s request that we ensure variety registration is modern, flexible and lends itself to a rapid pace of cultivar innovation, a cross-sectorial working group of PRCWRT members was struck to review operating procedures and recommended ways to streamline the process. The following outlines some of the changes that were ratified by the PRCWRT on Dec. 5, 2013, and which took effect immediately:

• The Operating Procedures have been streamlined extensively based on feedback from CFIA and input from working group members. For example, there is no longer any distinction made between a registration trial conducted by the public sector and one done by the private sector.

• One recommendation is to reduce data requirements by one year and allow up to four station-years of data from a U.S. state adjoining the Canadian Prairies. Another is to reduce priority disease assessments to five: leaf and stem rust, common bunt, fusarium head blight and stripe rust (meaning that leaf spots and smut are no longer mandatory).

• To ensure predictability and transparency of voting outcomes for candidate cultivars, changes include automated scoring for candidate cultivars at the team level based on merit assessment data collected. Candidates that are endorsed by all three teams are automatically recommended for registration. Only those with a split vote are referred to a voting panel with members representing the entire value chain.

These changes will remove unnecessary encumbrances identified in the review and will provide the wheat, rye and triticale industry with a modernized set of operating procedures for variety registration recommendations.