Seed World

Why we Need to Promote Certified Seed as an Ingredient and not Just a Commodity

Increasing grower adoption of new genetics is a necessity, but the way to do it lies in emphasizing its importance to end users, experts say.

In Canada’s agricultural community, a problem is quietly brewing — the underutilization of certified seed. According to available numbers, only about 20% of wheat farmers are opting for certified seed, prompting concerns about the industry’s resilience and sustainability. The challenge is not new; numerous promotional campaigns, including the ongoing #ChooseCertifiedSeed campaign by the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, have attempted to encourage this practice.

During a recent panel discussion at the Manitoba Seed Growers’ Association’s SeedLink Conference in Brandon, Man., three important industry thought leaders shared their perspective on how certified seed usage can be bolstered by encouraging end users to adopt it and help consumers see the importance of it.

Taking part in the panel were Adam Dyck, Canadian program manager for Warburtons; Heather Hill, research manager for the Prairie Research Kitchen at Winnipeg’s Red River College Polytechnic; and Peter Entz, vice-president of seeds and traits for Richardson.

Warburtons, a British bakery giant with a 148-year history, has been sourcing Canadian wheat for 30 years through its identity-preserved program. Despite having no production facilities in Canada, Warburtons has cultivated strong relationships with Canadian farmers, using their wheat to create top-tier bakery products.

“In my line of work, the significance of certified seed can’t be overstated. The level of variability and inconsistency in the grain landscape makes certified seed invaluable. We need to achieve the perfect blend, ensuring consistency in every shipment we make to the UK. It’s a game-changer, especially when compared to other baking companies globally facing quality fluctuations and production facility issues,” Dyck said.

“The consistency that certified seed offers is a selling point that sets us apart. The focus needs to shift back to the end user, emphasizing the value that certified seed brings to the table.”

One crucial shift in perspective, he said, is moving away from treating agricultural products as commodities.

“Take wheat, for example — it’s not just a commodity; it’s a vital ingredient. We need to sell it as an integral component of our products. In our case, wheat flour is touted as the most important ingredient on every package, and I advocate for similar strategies across the industry. We need to sell certified seed as an ingredient, not just a commodity.”

The Consumer Factor

As the Canadian agricultural landscape stands at a crossroads, the push to promote certified seed is taking an unexpected turn – towards the consumer. The question now lingers: can engaging end users and consumers unlock the door to wider adoption of certified seed, ensuring a more sustainable and prosperous future for Canada’s seed industry?

During her career journey in the food space, Heather Hill has specialized in pulses, dedicating several years to delving into the intricacies of pulse ingredient development. She currently serves as research manager for the Prairie Research Kitchen at Winnipeg’s Red River College Polytechnic. Specifically, her work has honed in on understanding the properties of pea flour as a food ingredient and exploring how various processing methods can impact its quality.

“End users, particularly food manufacturers, need to understand the inherent value in ensuring a consistent and high-quality ingredient. The significance of this consistency is evident when you factor in the intricacies of food processing. A shipment of peas with varying quality can be a substantial X-factor in a manufacturing system, potentially leading to the rejection of an entire lot and a day’s worth of processing efforts,” Hill said.

“Investing in certified seed, even if it involves a higher cost, guarantees a level of quality that remains consistent. In this way, any issues that may arise are more likely to be process-related than stemming from the raw material.”

While there may be opportunities to market the certified seed concept to consumers, the ultimate endgame, as she sees it, revolves around enlightening and convincing food manufacturers of the unparalleled value that lies in embracing certified seeds for ensuring a consistent and reliable ingredient supply chain.

Driving Adoption

Of course, the challenge is how to convince growers to adopt new genetics. The introduction of new and superior varieties is a common strategy to reengage farmers in the seed market, Entz noted.

“Our experience has highlighted that certain exceptional varieties are challenging to displace. Farmers find comfort in growing these varieties for extended periods, minimizing the importance of rapid turnover,” he said.

“The realm of intellectual property and catering to end-use demands adds another layer to the equation. Examples like what they’re doing at Warburtons, where specific varieties are driven by certified seed, and malt barley programs that contract based on end-user preferences, showcase the effectiveness of aligning seed offerings with end-use requirements.”

A new frontier for Richardson is the intersection of certified seed, sustainability, and end-user messaging, Entz added. As end-users increasingly seek sustainability in their products, the connection between certified seed, certain agronomic practices, and a positive environmental impact becomes crucial.

“There’s an opportunity to encourage the adoption of practices like nitrogen stabilization, contributing to environmental stewardship. This not only aligns with the sustainability expectations of end users but also allows us to deliver a marketable ‘green checkmark’ or thumbs-up that resonates with consumers seeking eco-friendly choices,” Entz said.

“As we navigate this evolving landscape, certified seed emerges not just as a tool for agricultural efficiency but as a bridge to connect with end-users through sustainability initiatives.”