Seed World

As Seeds Canada Meets in Winnipeg, the World is Taking Notice of our Newest National Seed Organization

Ellen Sparry is general manager of C&M Seeds.

For Ellen Sparry and Seeds Canada, what’s happening around the board table now will help create future success in the seed world.

When Ellen Sparry thinks back to January of 2021, she remembers an industry landscape that was much different than it is now. At the time, the seed sector in Canada was comprised of five industry associations, with Sparry herself serving as president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA).

Fast-forward to today, and that number has gone from five to two, and Sparry finds herself president of Seeds Canada, which marked its one-year anniversary earlier this year.

It was on Feb. 1, 2021, that Seeds Canada formed as a result of the amalgamation of the CSTA, Canadian Seed Institute, Canada Plant Technology Agency and Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada.

“The last number of months have been unique because of the ongoing pandemic and not getting together face-to-face in one room, but I think that the benefit of bringing those four associations together and having all those different voices in the room has been apparent even on a virtual level,” says Sparry, who also serves as general manager of Ontario’s C&M Seeds.

Leading a 15-person board isn’t easy, but Sparry has risen to the challenge. After the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) voted not to join Seeds Canada back in late 2020, she acknowledged that getting things done might take a little longer without having everybody together under one umbrella, but she was confident Seeds Canada and its members had the resolve to move ahead.

Over a year later, her prediction has come true.

“The Seeds Canada board structure is very forward thinking. Having people involved in all areas of the seed sector from a developer, distributor, retailer, seed testing aspect has really brought increased strength and depth to our discussions at the board table,” she says.

Sparry will serve a second year as president before passing the torch in 2023. Seeds Canada’s 2022 annual meeting, taking place in Winnipeg this week, will be the first opportunity for Seeds Canada members to formally get together in person since the organization’s formation, she notes.

“Just getting everyone in a room together is going to be significant. It’s those in-person conversations that really help you work through those big issues and help you determine where you’re headed as an organization,” Sparry says.

Barry Senft is executive director of Seeds Canada.

Part of bringing those voices to the table was the hiring of Barry Senft as executive director. Senft has more than 30 years’ experience in the private and public agri-business sectors, including the strategic development and merging of three organizations as CEO at Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Prior to arriving at Seeds Canada, he also served as executive director of the Canadian International Grains Institute, chief commissioner with the Canadian Grain Commission and second vice-president of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

“Having Barry on board has been a major asset for us,” Sparry adds. “He’s really brought people together and helped facilitate so many conversations that might not have happened as well without him.”

For Senft, having the entire value chain and stakeholders as members of Seeds Canada is key to Seeds Canada being what he calls the go-to voice of Canada’s seed sector.

“Everyone along the value chain, whether it’s the analysts, the auditors, seed growers, the seed developers big and small, they’re all around the table now. That’s a great starting point to work from. We recently held our very successful Seed Summit 2022 which I think showed what an appetite for change there is in this country,” Senft says.

The summit brought together the seed and agricultural communities to explore the future of the Canadian seed system and discuss solutions and opportunities to best meet the needs of producers and end users.

Seed Summit 2022 was initiated by Seeds Canada in partnership with a slate of producers and industry groups.

“It’s been a long time since we had a broader discussion of seed development by all of the industry, so I think this event shows the enthusiasm and sense of urgency Seeds Canada has been able to help generate in regard to regulatory reform,” Senft adds.

The World Stage

Michael Keller

It’s not just here at home where Seeds Canada is making an impact.

“The idea to create a new Canadian seed association was a terrific one. Seeds Canada might be a year-and-a-half old, but it was really launched many years back,” says Michael Keller, secretary-general of the International Seed Federation (ISF), with which Sparry has been involved for a number of years.

“I remember being in Vancouver for a Canadian Seed Trade Association meeting; this was a number of years back when the Seed Synergy project was going on. That was really an exciting example of how forward-thinking Canada is,” Keller says.

Canada is a critical player within ISF, he notes. ISF has different classes of national seed associations, and Canada is one of the highest.

“It’s been a permanent member of our board of directors for many years. I’m extremely excited that Ellen Sparry has been on our board for several years as well. Bringing four different organizations together under one umbrella to form Seeds Canada has been a world-leading example of how to restructure the seed value chain.”

Andy LaVigne agrees. As president of the American Seed Trade Association,

Andy LaVigne

he says Seeds Canada is a huge boon to the North American seed sphere as it gives the Canadian seed sector more of a cohesive voice.

“We’ve got many mutual members, and there’s a lot of cross-border activity. When you’ve got one united group to deal with instead of four, I think that’s much more effective,” LaVigne says.

Strength in Numbers

As Seeds Canada and its partners prepare to help support the best outcomes for the modernization of Canada’s seed industry landscape, the organization is hard at work on another important but complementary initiative — a membership drive designed to help recruit more organizations interested in being part of creating positive change for the seed industry, notes Krista Erickson, director of member strategy and solutions for Seeds Canada.

With the SRM process not expected to be complete until 2025, Senft says the 18-month-old organization has a lot of work ahead of it — but says amalgamating four organizations into one is only beginning to pay dividends.

Breeding methods are evolving, and those new tools are going to continue to be a key factor for the North American seed world, LaVigne notes — and Seeds Canada has a crucial role to play.

“A lot of leadership and discovery comes out of the U.S. and Canada in that regard. It’s important that there’s close collaboration between our two governments on developing policy for things like gene editing, but also phytosanitary issues, too,” he says.

“We have to move seed globally for research and multiplication and provide great varieties and tools for our grower customers. The partnership that we have with Canada is absolutely vital to accomplishing that goal.”