Seed World

Delivering the Whole Package

CDC managing director Kofi Agblor.

For every $1 million invested in varieties developed by the Crop Development Centre, producers make over $7 million.

The key to success in business is simple — deliver something of value that helps other people make money.

Actually doing that isn’t so easy, however. Having the right formula for success takes talented people with a clear business vision — something the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) is proving it has in spades.

The CDC is officially “taking aim at the future” with the implementation of its recent vision document of the same name, says managing director Kofi Agblor.

“To be successful, you have to be able to make sure you don’t just have a basket of crops available, but to make sure the crops and varieties you develop are actually making a difference to people economically,” he says. “As the old saying goes, the bottom line is everything.”

In 2015, the CDC did an economic impact assessment of its plant breeding focused solely on the yield gain from CDC varieties in Western Canada. It showed that for every dollar invested in the CDC, farmers were making over $7.

That’s hugely significant, Agblor notes.

“It means that we are not only developing great varieties but that those varieties, in terms of yield gain, are making people money. The way growers get yield increases is through genetics, agronomy, ease of harvesting — a whole suite of things. Essentially, our varieties represent a complete package that helps them to be successful.”

CDC managing director Kofi Agblor.

A History of Success

Crop diversification was one of the primary objectives of Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry in the early 1970s, partly due to a severe agricultural recession in the previous decade and to the few cropping options available to farmers. Wheat was the dominant crop, along with barley, oat and a limited acreage of flax and rapeseed. With summerfallow accounting for about 17 million acres annually in the 1970’s, almost 40 per cent of Saskatchewan’s arable land base was not contributing to the agricultural economy.

When the CDC was established in 1971, it was tasked with developing crop kinds that would diversify Saskatchewan’s cropping landscape. It later adopted the mandate “to improve the profitability of western Canadian farmers and the agri-food industry by improving existing crop kinds, developing news crops and developing new uses for existing crops.”

Coupled with initial funding of $326,000 from the National Research Council and the Government of Saskatchewan, the start-up centre recruited six scientists in disciplines that ensured a solid foundation for meeting its vision and mandate.

Fast-forward to today. After almost a half-century and 450 varieties released, the CDC represents the best example of public-private-producer partnership in plant breeding and variety development in Canada due to not only a clear vision, but a lot of hard work.

“It’s common to see CDC breeders out in the plots for long hours, sometimes seven days a week when that’s what the job requires,” says Jeff Reid, general manager for SeCan, which has partnered with the CDC many times over the years. “That kind of culture runs deep within the CDC and is an inspiration to everyone who works with them.”

Today, the CDC is a world leader in several areas that include wheat genomics and pulse crop research and development. Nevertheless, future success is not necessarily dependent on past performance. To remain leaders, the CDC must have an eye to the future with explicitly defined goals that are aligned with opportunities, while addressing the underlying challenges, Agblor says.

“We want to be more than just a variety developer. We want to show we can service the needs of the whole value chain,” Agblor says.

The Action Plan

The CDC’s go-forward plan is multi-pronged. It plans to:

  • Take its suite of crops — including wheat, soybean, barley, pea, oat, lentil, fababean, flax, dry bean, chickpea, forages and canaryseed — and improve their agronomic performance and end-use quality;
  • Develop and deploy the latest tools to develop varieties with desirable traits;
  • Attract and retain world-class research personnel in plant breeding;
  • Develop and acquire additional research facilities and equipment that can support the research and development of crop varieties;
  • Build on the successful partnership in place with various stakeholders;
  • Maximize returns on intellectual property (IP);
  • Pursue strategies that improve the financial stability and the operations of the CDC