For Ellen Sparry, Having Everyone at the Table is Paramount

Ellen Sparry has had a busy year, to say the least.

On Feb. 1, Canada’s new national seed organization — Seeds Canada — went live. Made up of four amalgamating partners — the Canadian Seed Trade Association, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, Canadian Seed Institute and Canadian Plant Technology Agency — Sparry agreed to serve as president to lead the board into uncharted waters.

Uniting a large chunk of Canada’s seed industry under one banner had been talked about for many years, but never saw the light of day until now.

“Discussions have gone on for over a decade. I think it was 2009 when it first came up so it has been a goal for quite a while. For a long time, we were a somewhat fractured industry,” says Sparry, who serves as general manager for Ontario’s C&M Seeds.

“We’re all connected, but for decades were all operating independently. So, the discussion was how do we get everybody in the room to better understand one another and have the discussions that we needed to have?”

The amalgamation of the four partners comes at an important time in the country’s history, as efforts are underway to modernize both Canada’s seed regulatory system and novel food regulations. The desire to lobby for itself as a united industry — to speak with a single voice — was a major driving factor in the formation of Seeds Canada.

“We knew from meeting with government over the years that we needed to get ourselves better aligned. We now have over 200 members from all areas of the industry under one roof — seed analysts, plant breeders, distributors, producers and many others,” Sparry says.

She notes that Canada exports over $700 million annually in seed to over 100 countries. Sparry herself as been very active at the international level, having been an active member of the International Seed Federation.

“Our participation in the global market is extremely important. Canada plays a big role on the global stage and with everyone now at the table we are in a better position to grow that market even more.”

The amalgamation was not without its bumps, though. Canadian Seed Growers’ Association members ultimately voted no to the amalgamation, meaning a second vote had to be held among the four remaining partners.

“The big challenge is getting everyone to take off their individual hat and play with a team mindset. It’s often human nature to come to the table with a somewhat protective stance, but we got there and moved forward,” Sparry says.

“It took a couple of tries; mergers don’t always get done on the first go-around. But when you start to move outside of your little bubble, you realize we’re a global community. Remaining active within that international community will be very important as Seeds Canada moves forward,” she adds.

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