Canadian Seed Growers Association board members say merging with our other associations to create Seeds Canada is the path to a prosperous future.

Last week, members of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association took to the virtual world to hold their 2020 annual meeting. The highlight was a lengthy discussion around Seeds Canada, during which the board of directors officially endorsed the merger plan to create a single national seed organization called Seeds Canada.

We felt it best to relay, in their own words, why these influential members of the seed community feel the Seeds Canada proposal is a good one for seed growers — and also what challenges they feel lay ahead for Seeds Canada to fully and adequately represent seed growers.

Scott Horner serves as president of the Seed Association of the Americas.

Scott Horner | General Manager, HyTech Production | Coaldale, Alta.

How Seeds Canada will make the industry more efficient: “Today there are five boards, five offices, five AGMs, five accounting audits, legal services, communications, strategic planning and more overlap. There are very real budget savings that can be invested to align behind key priorities, like regulatory modernization, which will benefit the entire sector from breeder through to the commercial producer. Coordinating resources will have tangible benefits for all members, streamlining and improving member services.”

How seed growers can ensure they don’t lose their voice as a part of Seeds Canada: “To me, the solution is simple: engage and be active. Seed growers are the elephant in the room. There are 10 times more seed grower members than all other members combined. With the one member-one vote structure, seed growers can easily control the agenda of the organization — but Seed Synergy isn’t about control. It’s about collaboration and working for the good of the seed sector. I’m confident seed growers will see value in Seeds Canada and step up as proactive partners in supporting initiatives and ensuring seed grower interests are well served.”

The fear of increased fees: “Frankly this is a risk regardless of what association you belong to and this risk exists whether CSGA stands alone or amalgamates into Seeds Canada. The Seeds Canada commitment to grandfather and maintain membership fees is a practical way to start. I look at the strength, integrity, and experience of the new board and I believe they will do their best to run a lean ship and keep membership rates as low as they can. Every association board knows there’s strength in numbers and they do everything they can to maintain membership. Unfairly ratcheting up rates isn’t the way to achieve a strong organization.”

Assuming the amalgamation vote is positive, what work needs to be done to ensure the historic launch of Seeds Canada is a success? “I think one of the challenges that hasn’t been addressed is that each association has preconceived and often inaccurate notions about the priorities, objectives and responsibilities of the other associations. Predictably each association has an elevated sense of importance. It’s time we all take a step back and recognize how hugely interdependent we are on each other. Each group is an important link in the supply chain and no group is more important than the other. Industry develops new products; seed growers produce the seed and that seed is sold by both groups. The Canadian Seed Institute, Canadian Plant Technology Agency and the Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada are all critical in driving the system that results in a producer purchase and all of us getting paid. It’s critical at the outset that the new board, staff and executive director all have an accurate understanding of the responsibilities and priorities each of the individual associations has. Without this knowledge there will be unnecessary conflict at the board table and an inability to achieve Seeds Canada’s goals.”

Roy Klym runs RoLo Farms.

Roy Klym | Owner RoLo Farms | Regina, Sask.

On seed growers losing their voice: “A lot of hard work will have to be done by the Seeds Canada board to recognize the input and important contributions of the grassroots members. To have ‘suits’ rather than ‘boots’ serving on the board of directors and various committees is a risk. One of Seeds Canada’s goals is building a strong, united voice for Canada’s seed industry that successfully advocates for industry needs and interests. Will growers be considered as part of the industry ?”

The fear of increased fees: “An increase in the fee structure of grower members to carry a larger portion of the Seeds Canada operating budget would be detrimental. If a large portion of growers decide to become clients as opposed to members, will the service entry fee portion of certification will have to increase to pay for the rest of the organization?”

How Seeds Canada can provide value for their money as members: “Seeds Canada will need to prove within the first year that it is providing real value for what is spent by grower members on membership. How this is accomplished is a daunting task as each and every member has a different definition of what is real value for their business.”

How Seeds Canada will help our industry better connect with consumers: “Many of us place very little value on advocacy and social license. Yet these are becoming increasingly important in today’s society and a more unified voice nationally working in conjunction with focused independent regional associations should prove to be very cost and results effective.”

Eric McLean operates JS Henry & Son.

Eric McLean | Owner, J.S. Henry & Son | Oak River, Man.

The communications benefits of Seeds Canada: “Opening clear and honest communications will provide time savings, ability to converse frankly, and build cohesion around how everyone is important in the seed system. Right from grassroots to suits, the industry will evolve to this understanding as each entity gets to know each other and the role they play.”

Why Seeds Canada will help us better plan for the future: “Project development will be enhanced because both sides of the story will be heard early before wrong paths are chosen. In the past, many projects proceeded before concerns were fully understood and I believe that seed growers will provide important feedback and information to educate industry partners as to how farmers’ needs must be addressed.”

Why Seeds Canada will help us all be better salespeople: “Marketing efforts improve as product creation becomes more effective due to improved communications and the value of seed and seed products becomes entrenched. In many circles, the gap between plant breeder, company, grower, and farmer can lead to misalignment of priorities for varietal development. The hope is with one entity that all these groups will come together to work to providing valuable seed solutions.”

How today’s modern seed growers are involved in all aspects of the industry: “My own operation includes all facets of seed production. This puts me in a position to understand why it’s important to proceed with the amalgamation to create Seeds Canada. I am a seed grower, and represent the farm that produces seed by seeding, caring for, and harvesting the best seed I can grow. My wife runs the seed enterprise, which facilitates production, roguing, cleaning, grading, logistics, sales and marketing of the seed that my farm grows (as well as the seed that our many contract growers produce as well). …We are not conflicted and confused about asking farm employees to discuss needs that arise with staff that regulate and condition product, because they share constructive ideas that make our farm and business the best that we can be. We plan, work, and develop together.”

Being a member of the inaugural Seeds Canada board: “I plan to work with others to create a cohesive team with the other board members. I can assure you, that all of those chosen to be on that first board do not have failure in mind. There may be troubles, but all directors have the goal of achieving excellence. If everyone keeps the goal in mind, then the future will be full of possibilities for generations to come. That is continuing the legacy of what the CSGA and CSTA set out to do many years ago.”

Dale Connell owns Ontario’s Connell Seeds.

Dale Connell Owner | Connell Seeds | Palmerston, Ont.

How forming Seeds Canada makes Canada more competitive: “We will have a bigger arena to operate within, with less isolation, more integration between people in the seed sector, more business models to pick from and a broader base for income and fees to cover overhead. There will be a bigger talent pool to draw from, and in the end perhaps new responsibilities with the possibility of implementing incorporation by reference into Canada’s seed regulations.”

How we need a change in mindset for Seeds Canada to be successful: “We will not be operating strictly with a grower business model anymore. Government loves the idea of taking every file they don’t want to deal with and say, ‘OK, it’s yours.’ We have to be prepared to operate in the new environment and effectively prioritize.”

On how how Seeds Canada will help keep us from being surpassed by other countries. “We need a better investment climate and ROI. Our small market size and value are handicaps to further development of the industry. We need a large, engaged talent pool where people see a future for themselves and others. We need to stop falling back on what we have got now and build something even bigger. In some ways this is too small an idea. What comes next after Seeds Canada? Where do we go from there?”

Andre Lussier is a Quebec contract seed grower.

André Lussier | Owner, Ferme Helyon | St. Hyacinthe, Que.

How a 2018 trip to the Netherlands and France organized by CSGA showed him how a national seed organization would be effective: “Those two countries have a central seed organization with all the stakeholders of the seed chain, a lot like what we are trying to implement in Canada. During this trip we met a lot of farmers and I asked every single one of them if they were happy with a joint organization. The answer was yes. They emphasized that the large seed companies have not taken control of the agenda, as some feared. There’s no reason why it would be different in Canada.”

Why disengagement among seed growers must be avoided with Seeds Canada in the picture: “With CSGA, membership was automatic if you were using the services. With the new organization, you can choose to only pay for services and not pay for being a member. Many are scared that we will lose control of the organization. However, we have all the tools at our disposal to ensure this does not happen. My farm has the same number of votes as a large company. One business, one vote. We as seed growers can remain a driving force in the organization, but to vote you have to be a member. If we lose control, it will be by lack of involvement.”

Why French Canada doesn’t have to worry about being left out of the picture: “The official languages of Seeds Canada are English and French. Also, CSGA’s employees will be integrated into Seeds Canada, so the bilingualism that exists now will not be lost. We are not starting with new people. The interim board will have a critical job to maintain or even improve the bilingual nature of Seeds Canada. I’m confident it will go the right way. This will be a national organization serving customers in both official languages.”