Farmers need seed to grow crops. It’s just that simple. This is why public institutions have played such an important role in plant breeding over the years. But, just as new varieties are needed when environmental conditions change, new funding models for plant breeders are needed when economic conditions change.
Kofi Agblor knows all to well about changing economic environments. He is the managing director of the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan. He sat down with Shaun Haney, host of RealAg Radio, to talk about the lasting legacy of the CDC and what it takes to sustain its viability in an ever-changing plant breeding environment. (story continues after video)
Agblor lists four things that he sees as central to the CDC’s success, the first being the commitment of the plant breeders and their focus and understanding that the product must meet the needs of the farmer and the consumer. “The second thing is the long-term relationship with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. For 47 years they have been committing funding to the breeders, in terms of their salaries, and also for some of the operations that we carry out,” he says.
“The third thing is the commitment of growers. Since the check-offs have been established we have significant investments, and the fourth is the university environment,” he says.
The greatest challenge to the CDC and public breeding systems like them is funding. The costs involved for any program go up year-after-year. The administrators have to go hat-in-hand to whomever may be willing to invest in new varieties.
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Agblor talks about what happened when one long-term funder put their money elsewhere. “This year when PepsiCo, after 42 years, great relationship and benefit to our growers, decided to reallocate resources from our program, you know I had to run around and go to investors, and the grower group and say, ‘Can you help us here?’ Because if you stop a breeding pipeline you do not just restart it.”
Agblor compares the CDC funding model compared to private industry “We can not raise money from the market like Syngenta can do but the costs they incur is the same as us. Your breeding: you do a cross, you need all the field trials, you need greenhouse space and all that, costs are not any lower.”