Seed World

Will Delays in Getting Phyto Certificates get Worse?

Dave Carey, CSTA Executive Director
Dave Carey, CSTA Executive Director

We often hear “it is an exciting time to be in agriculture,” and would agree that this is true in the world of seed.

When Finance Minister Bill Morneau created the Economic Advisory Council shortly after coming into office in 2015, agriculture became a prominent focus.

The momentum continued with the release of the 2017 federal budget. It highlighted the importance of the agriculture and agri-food sectors in a way never seen before.

Now that we’re in 2018, the seed sector, representing its piece of the agricultural pie, must communicate what it needs from the government to reach the government’s export goals. A ‘whole-of-government’ approach is needed and every department and agency that touches agriculture, regardless of their core mandate, needs to look at themselves as a facilitator of trade.

Organizations like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), for example, are not traditionally mandated to facilitate trade. But in agriculture’s moment in the spotlight, we must ask of ourselves, and them, what is required to reach the industry’s economic potential.

One area meriting focus relates to phytosanitary certificates. Phytosanitary certificates are the tools of trade — the passport for seed as a commodity. It is required in the same way that you or I need a passport to be accepted into international destinations. With exports of close to $700 million in the 2016/17 crop year, seed companies are exporting at unprecedented levels.

This growth is perhaps why the Canadian seed industry is already experiencing significant delays in receiving phytosanitary certificates from the CFIA for shipments of seed destined for foreign markets. These delays have been observed since the fall of 2017. In March, CSTA contacted CFIA to raise this issue formally and offered several examples of phyto turnaround times for China, which at its worst took 41 days from the time of sampling for phytos to be issued for a large shipment of oats.

Further exacerbating these challenges, in mid-April, USDA-APHIS decided to “clarify” the rules for the export of foreign origin seed from Canada into the U.S. The new changes require a phytosanitary certificate from CFIA for Canadian exports of foreign-origin seed to the U.S. Prior to this change, a company re-exporting seed only required a seed analysis certificate from an accredited private seed lab as well as the original phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin. This will increase CFIA’s phyto responsibilities. Will our delays in getting phytosanitary certificates continue to get worse?

With bold but achievable export targets set for the agriculture and agri-food industry in the 2017 budget, we need to ensure that we can move our products to international markets. Currently, CFIA is the only body permitted to issue phytos for seed. Moreover, the task of phyto issuance is completed by a sole laboratory in Saskatoon. While analyzing samples for impurities and diseases — required for issuing phytos — is not an easy task, the fact remains that the Canadian seed industry cannot increase its exports without the support of government.

It is possible that with the shift towards a ‘whole-of-government’ approach and the understanding that each department needs to see themselves as facilitators of trade, the CFIA may be able to achieve some efficiencies in issuing phytos. However, the recognition that governments operate on budgets and face competing priorities themselves is important.

Perhaps there is another solution. CSTA, along with its partners in the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project, have been exploring the recent CFIA decision on grain phytosanitary certificates.

In this situation, CFIA implemented an alternative service delivery system to test grain exports to see how it could be applied to seed exports. Private seed labs can now be accredited under the CFIA Recognition of Export Grain Analysis by Authorized Laboratories (REGAL) program to test grain export shipments to China, India and Mexico. Time and continued exploration will tell if this can be the answer to strapped government resources and the demands that exporting $75 billion by 2025 will require.