Annette Gibbons is associate deputy minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. As the joint annual meeting of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association and Canadian Seed Trade Association in Whistler, B.C., rolls on, we caught up with her to talk regulatory modernization, Seed Synergy and more.
Germination: Annette, tell us a bit about your history in government. Why do you do what you do? What do you love most about it?
Annette Gibbons: Over the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to work in several different federal departments. These include the Department of Finance, Transport Canada and now here at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. I would have to say that the thing I love most about my job is the people and the opportunity I’ve had to travel around the country and meet with some really exceptional public servants over the years.
Germination: Since fall of 2018 you have been assistant deputy minister with AAFC. What’s been the most significant thing you’ve learned about Canadian agriculture during that time?
AG: What’s most impressed me is the tremendous amount of innovation that is going on in Canadian agriculture and food. There’s really a sense of excitement about how technology is enabling farmers and food processors to put healthy and safe food on dinner tables here in our own country and around the world. And that certainly rings true for the seed industry here in Canada, which is helping drive a lot of these surges in efficiency and productivity that we’re seeing right across the sector.
Germination: Why are you attending the CSTA/CSGA meetings in Whistler this year? What do you hope to communicate to attendees?
AG: The Annual General Meeting hosted by the Canadian Seed Trade Association and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association is an important opportunity for us to continue an open dialogue with farmers and food processors across Canada.
There are important recent developments to discuss. For example, the Economic Strategy Tables have recommended a number of actions to support sector growth, which government supports. These include:
- Developing an agile regulatory system;
- Addressing bottlenecks in infrastructure;
- Engaging with key export markets through a strategic approach;
- New investments in technology and digital transformations, such as the use of blockchain technology;
- Increased training and attention to labour issues;
- And of course, increasing trade in agri-food.
Germination: Our industry is currently undergoing seed regulatory modernization via an initiative called the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project. This project aims to create a next-generation seed regulatory system for the country. What are your thoughts on this project so far? A white paper was released last year — what were your impressions?
AG: Well, it is interesting the way the industry has stepped forward to collaborate and re-think the structure and function of the current seed system. The White Paper is the culmination of a great deal of work by Seed Synergy’s members to advance a vision of Canada’s next-generation seed system. Government is committed to continuous improvement through our regulatory modernization efforts and through policies and programs. As we progress with current initiatives related to the seed system, it is beneficial to have a clear sense of industry priorities.
Germination: Do you feel our industry is accomplishing what it needs to with regard to modernizing itself to meet the future?
AG: Canada’s farmers and the agriculture sector have a long track record of using sound management practices, innovation, and new technologies to reduce greenhouse gases, while boosting productivity, efficiency and income. In 2018, government launched the $3 billion Canadian Agricultural Partnership with provincial and territorial partners to help the agriculture sector grow sustainably, including support for agricultural innovation and research. From innovative tools and technologies to programs, farmers will be better prepared and supported to adapt to a changing climate and grow the sector in a sustainable way.
Canada is also leading an international effort to implement the Living Laboratories approach on a global scale. We’re encouraging international partners to work collaboratively to develop and test innovative technologies on working farms, which will increase the sharing and adoption of practical technologies and sustainable farming practices. In addition, the federal government has funded a project for $58,000 to pilot a blockchain system of traceability for soybean seed, which is a specific example of modernization in the seed sector.
Germination: Regulatory modernization is now scheduled for 2021, when the Seeds Act will be opened for amendments to be made. What is government looking for from the seed industry between now and then?
AG: At this stage, it would be beneficial for government and industry to work together. We welcome further discussion with Seed Synergy members and other implicated stakeholders to determine important details that can potentially become part of proposals for the CFIA to take forward for broad stakeholder consultation on Seed Regulatory Modernization.
Germination: What is AAFC’s biggest challenge that the seed industry can help you with?
AG: Seed is the first link in the agri-food value chain and is very important to the agriculture sector, contributing billions of dollars and providing thousands of jobs. It is important that the sector seizes this opportunity to modernize regulations and policies, supporting an efficient and effective seed system moving into the future.
Germination: A third model for a value creation system has been proposed. Can you provide any comment on details and how you think it might work?
AG: The Grains Roundtable had recommended the first two models for further discussion within the sector. More recently, producer organizations have proposed a third model. AAFC and CFIA will continue to facilitate analysis and discussion on all these models. The goal is to support the sector assess the best way forward. Key considerations include addressing challenges and enhancing the profitability of producers and the sector more generally.