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Plenty of upside to new seed body

Julia Thompson, Quentin Martin and Sarah Fretz are part of the team at Cribit Seeds, which supports the proposed new Seed Synergy initiative. [Damon Maclean]

Where the National Farmers Union sees big agriculture at work in the Seed Synergy initiative, local producer Cribit Seeds spots an opportunity.

Seed Synergy calls for the amalgamation of five bodies – Canadian Seed Growers Association, Canadian Seed Trade Association, Canadian Seed Institute, Commercial Seed Analysts Association, and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency – into one organization. NFU sees the effort as a boost for large agribusiness, a way to sideline independent seed producers.

Quentin Martin, a co-owner of Winterbourne’s Cribit Seeds and an industry expert, has a much different view of the project.

“With respect to the NFU, from their standpoints, it comes across as some big corporate conspiracy theory. I think that just needs to get blown up, because there’s just no foundation – in fact, the vast majority of people working on this are not connected to large corporations. They’re either family-farm seed operations, or small regional organic seed companies,” he said.

Martin said the NFU’s intentions are positive but its position on Seed Synergy misrepresents the amalgamation, which will benefit the little guy. “This victimization of farmers” is something Martin said he “frankly doesn’t have the patience for.”

Cribit Seeds was incorporated in 1968 and has been a significant player in cereal wheat since its inception. The operation currently has some 16 employees, including five family members. Martin and his brother Keith began around 30 years ago, working on the dairy side of operations.

“Keith and I made the foolish decision to think we could pull it off as a standalone thing,” jokes Martin.

A rough breakdown by staff member Julia Thompson estimates 40 per cent of the Cribit Seeds business is based upon seeds, 40 per cent around grain roasting and 20 per cent on traditional farming.

“The business is a dichotomy: we seed, and then we also do grain roasting. We contract production on both of sides. We only farm about 1,500 acres ourselves where we’re doing everything. We contract, probably a total of about 10,000 acres that come in here. We’re also engaged in some aspect of that production, whether it’s disease and weed control… we probably harvest over a third of the material that comes in here,” Martin explained.

While Cribit’s owners are supportive of the Seed Synergy initiative, Martin notes it was staff that advocated for the idea, pointing to the barriers that exist in the current system. To get a seed to market, for instance, currently involves the work of three of the five organizations that are part of the amalgamation, each step a hurdle in the process.

At Cribit Seeds, Sarah Fretz looks after quality systems and research, having once worked for the Ontario Seed Growers Association. She notes her job would improve under the merger.

“People are worried about losing the little guy’s voice, right? You’re still going to have the big-guy voice and you’re going to have a little one, but maybe you’re looking at a different place when you’re approaching government and… you want a unified voice. You want an industry to hear the multinational [voice], you want to hear the grower voices and you want to get your act together before you go to government,” she said.

“So, yes, you’re still going to have all those voices and you’re still going to have formats for those voices. There are so many ways of getting your opinion out there these days – as an industry, [this] allows you to all bring all those voices together.”

Growers have until August 27 to vote, and Martin and his team urge those in the community to move this motion forward. Each grower received a 200-page document outlining the proposed changes and amendments that will come with the merger. However, it is difficult to be caught in the legalese and fine print of the document, let alone break down its daunting size.

Martin and his team encourage growers to reach out to them to learn more about the improvements in industry the merger will create. Cribit Seeds can be reached by phone at 519-664-3701.

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