CPTABruce Harrison (left) is a former board member for the Canadian Plant Technology Agency, while Lorne Hadley is its executive director. Photo of Lorne Hadley by Alicia Leclercq

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As the industry envisions a next-generation seed system, the Canadian Plant Technology Agency is here to help enable innovation.

Change has come  fast for the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA). As the action agency working to ensure intellectual property is respected in Canadian agriculture, the 20-year-old organization has seen its role change since it was founded. It began as an active lobby group, but a reduction in funding has led it to become more of an educational resource for the industry.

Now that the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project is undertaken, CPTA executive director Lorne Hadley sees potential in the exercise to create a next-generation seed system for the country — one that could empower both the industry and government at the same time.

“One of our challenges has been that government employees in the seed sector are neutral on Plant Breeders’ Rights and intellectual property tools, which means they don’t answer questions about it directly when asked by a producer. I’d like to see a recognition on the part of government that they can communicate directly with producers about the value of intellectual property when asked,” he says.

“We need government to be able to say to a farmer, ‘No, you can’t sell that for seed, and here’s who to talk to about that.”

Accomplishing this means the seed industry needs to communicate more effectively with government, something the Seed Synergy project is designed to do.

“The big win for our industry with Seed Synergy is bringing collaboration to a new plateau. We now have six associations, and that allows us to share supporting resources. Too much of the time, we have viewed what goes on in our industry as a set of silos, where ‘I’m only responsible for my part and I don’t concern myself with what’s happening outside of that.’”

Bruce Harrison, senior director of seed breeding and innovation for Crop Production Services and a CPTA board member from 1998 until 2005, notes that today, the seed industry is concerned with many areas — research and development, market access, production, processing, sale and more — and those functions aren’t linked very well at times. The Seed Synergy project will hopefully bring all that together, he says — so long as our six associations have very specific and finely-tuned mandates.

“Most important is making sure there are crystal-clear goals for these organizations, and working more closely to ensure there’s limited overlap and getting the most out of the resources available. If there’s an opportunity to come together though Seed Synergy, we should really embrace that.”

Resources are always an issue in any industry, Hadley acknowledges, and he says having more of them would be key to helping the CPTA meet the future of the Canadian seed sector.

Harrison agrees.

“For the CPTA and all the groups involved in Seed Synergy, we need to make sure we’re being as efficient as we can with the funding available for the whole area of IP protection. It’s a question of focus,” he says. “If there are ways we can drive efficiency, we should really seriously focus on that.”

For Hadley, maintaining that focus is key — but he says the industry likely now has the benefit of having CPTA’s principles embedded in its very fabric.

“Our focus is the service we deliver, not CPTA itself. It is a virtual organization set up to deliver a defined set of things members need — monitoring of the marketplace, advice on enforcement issues and education, and we’ve never strayed from that,” he says.

“We see growing needs for CPTA’s services and for CPTA to be involved with more impact in certain areas, but that has to be balanced with the costs and benefit of that. Innovators need to be paid. Seeing they get paid for their innovations is still our mission. Operationally, how that happens in the future is up for discussion.”

—The Past, Present, Future series examines each of our sector’s six representative groups over the next several months to offer insight into why they were founded, what they do, and the role they expect to play in the future. 

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