Public Institution and Farmer Organization Partnership in Pulse Research, a success story from Saskatchewan, Canada
Blog post by Bunyamin Tar’an, Crop Development Centre/Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan
The pulse industry has been outstanding across Saskatchewan and western Canada for many years. Saskatchewan’s pulse industry started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pulses were introduced as part of the cereal-based cropping system. In the early days, the cereal producers sensed a strong need to diversify their crops to maintain the livelihood of farming in the region.
The Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan was established in the early 1970s. The CDC provides genetic research and breeding platforms for developing improved crop varieties of most of the major crop kinds and market classes grown that are important to Saskatchewan and western Canadian farm and industry stakeholders. In 1984, the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board (known today as Saskatchewan Pulse Growers) was formed and the industry took off. It was the combined efforts of research and a group of some pioneering pulse growers that set the stage for the growth of pulses in Saskatchewan.
Compared to most other parts of the world, the development of the pulse industry in Saskatchewan over the past 30 years has been remarkable. The success of the industry is based on many factors. At the root of it all was the risk-taking spirit of dedicated pulse growers who invested their own time, money and effort to develop the pulse crop sector during a period of rapid change in crop-based farming systems. Along the way, partners included the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, the research community, suppliers of input products, specialized harvesting equipment, and a wide range of essential materials and infrastructure. Other factors included the elimination of subsidies for traditional grain production in Canada, and the preservation of subsidies on cereals and nitrogen in other pulse production regions around the world. The success of the pulse industry in western Canada is a pleasing testimony of what can be achieved in collaboration and partnership between a public institution i.e. the University of Saskatchewan and a farmer organization i.e. the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.
What is so special in the successful partnership between the University of Saskatchewan as a public institution and the farmer organization in pulse research? In 1997 the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers signed a unique agreement with the CDC Pulse Breeding Program. In exchange for a financial commitment to pulse breeding at CDC, SPG received the distribution rights to all pulse varieties developed by the CDC. Farmers benefit by getting improved varieties royalty free that allows quick adoption of new cultivars. The CDC benefits through stable, long-term funding. Studies have shown that investments in pulse research in Saskatchewan have generated high return on investment of about 20.4% on the genetics and breeding research and created benefits of Can$16 for every dollar invested by producers (Gray and Scott, 2003). To date, pulse research in western Canada is primarily done by public institutions and financed by producer check-offs, provincial and federal governments. Historically, there has been very little private sector investment in the development of new pulse cultivars for western Canada.
What does the future hold for the Saskatchewan pulse research and industry? Saskatchewan lentil production has been corresponding with the global growth of lentil consumption. Pea crops have grown dramatically in Saskatchewan substituting production from other regions globally. Growth in chickpea, faba bean and dry bean are expected to rise based on improvements in genetics and competitiveness for production in the regions where these crops are grown. Currently pulses occupy 15-18% of crop production areas, with a four-year rotation with cereals and oilseeds, pulses can be expected to increase to 20 to 25 per cent of the annual cropped area in western Canada.
For Canadian pulse farmers to remain competitive in the world’s market, the public breeding program will remain important. Stable and real research funding with more producer and government involvement are necessary to continue progress in pulse research and breeding. The newly passed legislation (Bill C-18, Agricultural Growth Act) that brings Canada under the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 opens a new exciting chapter in pulse breeding in Canada.