Plant breeding in Manitoba next big opportunity for producers

The future of cereal plant breeding may be changing in Manitoba and Canada. The Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA) is looking at ways to ensure farmers continue to play a role in shaping the future of the variety development system.

Brent VanKoughnet, project consultant with MWBGA, said the association is exploring opportunities around plant breeding innovation. They believe the future may involve much greater participation from producers, through funding, research or creating new development.


Members of the the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association board. Pictured left to right are Don Dewar (Chair), Doug Martin, Fred Greig (Vice), David Rourke and Ray Askin.

Priority for producers

"Before we started our research, many producers we talked to didn't know a lot about the background of plant breeding," says VanKoughnet. "But after hearing about the potential for change in the industry, and how other countries have involved producers in the process, they agreed that they couldn't think of anything more important for a producer growers association like ours to be on top of."

MWBGA is a new organization, formed after the Canadian Wheat Board's role changed in 2012. The association recently received financial support from Growing Forward 2's Growing Visions program to consult with Manitoba farm leaders to determine a MWBGA strategic plan for the future of cereal plant breeding.

The funding also allowed them to participate in inter-provincial discussion and evaluation. MWBGA's board is now better positioned to build partnerships and move forward if they see an opportunity to benefit producers. Growing Forward 2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to advance the agricultural industry.

"The Growing Visions program helped us look at the role of MWBGA and our future goals at a very important time," says VanKoughnet. "The program recognizes that valuable work requires leadership, and it gave us the opportunity to strengthen our organization for the future."

Public, private and producer partnerships

VanKoughnet explained that MWBGA is working closely with grower commissions in Alberta and Saskatchewan to explore cereal plant breeding alternatives that make sense across the prairies and nationally.

"The future might be that producers become much more involved in cereal breeding programs, potentially even considering a formal ownership position," says VanKoughnet. "We believe there is a unique opportunity to seriously explore a number of public, private and producer partnership options. The challenge is creating a value-capture model that can ensure innovation and create an adequate return on investment for producers and other investors."

VanKoughnet said currently the vast majority of cereal variety development is done through public breeding programs and the funds available to remain competitive are limited. Serious additional investment would need to come from other investors and producers that have a large stake in that outcome.

The canola industry provides one example of encouraging private investment. Through innovation and research carried out by the private sector, potential yields and acres in Canada have grown dramatically in the past 10 years. If producers want to participate in the future of cereal innovation, this is likely the best window of opportunity to have influence.

"We fully expect there will be a leadership role for producers in determining the new model for cereal plant breeding in Manitoba and Canada. We expect to be very involved in more detailed studies and discussions with all prairie stakeholders over the next 12 to 18 months," says VanKoughnet.

Growers interested in hearing more can attend the MWBGA AGM in February 2015. Watch for updates on the association's website or call Brent VanKoughnet directly at 204-745-6226.

Growing Visions and Growing Actions

Organizations like MWBGA with projects that advance agriculture in Manitoba should take note of the upcoming Growing Visions and Growing Actions funding application deadline of August 29, 2014.

"For Growing Visions we're seeing organizations apply for funding to make strategic plans and also for training, development activities or internal reviews of policy, procedures, governance and models," says Tricia Meaud, program officer with Growing Forward 2 Secretariat. "For Growing Actions we've seen quite a diverse range of applications including requests for funding to support pilot projects to test new ideas, feasibility studies and SWOT analyses."

Meaud explained organizations that receive Growing Visions funding are seeing the benefit of taking the time to reflect and look at their priorities and goals. Increased strategic planning and governance also strengthens the organizations' ability to serve their clients and members.

"The funding gives organizations the ability to look at their operations," says Meaud. "After taking time to reflect, they can move forward in a more strategic way."

Growing Actions allows organizations to look externally, including accessing new markets and exploring new opportunities.

Growing Visions applicants are eligible for up to $35,000 for projects to pay for professional consulting fees, incremental project labour, speakers' fees and leadership skills training. Projects will be funded on a 75:25 basis, with government providing up to 75 per cent of the costs and applicants responsible for the balance in cash or in-kind contributions.

Growing Actions provides up to $400,000 per project or per organization. Funding can go to developing strategic marketing initiatives, research to enter new markets or developing tools to expand the sector. Eligible expenses can include professional consulting fees, production of materials and even laboratory costs. Projects will be funded on a 75:25 basis, with government providing up to 75 per cent of the costs and applicants responsible for the balance in cash and in-kind contributions.

Applications can be made at any time, but the next deadline is August 29, 2014. Contact your local MAFRD GO Office for more information. All applicants must complete an organizational assessment. MAFRD staff is available to help applicants ensure they fulfill all the necessary requirements.

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