It’s been 117 years since CSGA grew from its humble beginnings as a small group of dedicated individuals working in the Canadian Department of Agriculture who saw the need for improvement in seed stocks that would lead to more profitable crops. Fast forward to today and CSGA has become Canada’s Seed Crop Authority, setting and upholding seed industry standards in close collaboration with our partners to strengthen Canada’s entire seed system.
With this timeline, we welcome our visitors to take a deep dive into the vault of CSGA’s past and to immerse into the incredible industrial developments, organizational growth and technological advances that CSGA has undergone and continues to look forward to in years to come. We hope you enjoy it!
The Emergence of CSGA
J.W. Robertson, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Dairying in the Dominion Department of Agriculture conceives a plan to encourage farm children to grow better crops from better seed, first donating $100 for prizes, followed by ten thousand dollars donated by Sir William C. Macdonald of Montreal to continue the program and develop a larger seed plot competition amongst farm children. The competition would last three (3) consecutive years.
The Establishment of CSGA
Following the successes of the seed plot competitions in the years previous, the parents of those children express a desire to continue the work of selecting better seed. As a result, the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) is established in 1904 and those parents eventually become the first original members of the Association. In 1904, both the President and Secretary were officials from the federal Department of Agriculture.
1904 – 1922
This period involved transition from a ‘mass selection’ crop improvement organization to a pedigreed seed organization that maintained traceability and the quality of ‘pure line’ selected varieties developed by government plant breeders.
- In 1919, Canadian representatives of the Department of Agriculture and CSGA met with US colleagues in Chicago to establish the International Crop Improvement Association (ICIA) which evolved into the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). The primary objective for ICIA was to develop a US system of seed and crop certification standards, for quality and varietal purity, sufficiently comparable to Canada’s to permit reciprocal recognition of official seed tags and certificates.
- In 1921, G. H. Cutler of Alberta becomes the first President of the ICIA from Canada and, at the first International Seed Grain Show in Chicago, Canadian seed growers won the first 5 prizes in the Hard-Red Spring Wheat class as well as 1st prize in both the oats and the two-row barley classes.
- 1922: CSGA amasses over 4,000 members.
1923 – 1936
With increased government support and a new Seeds Act introduced a Certified class and increased seed demand for certified seed after successive western droughts and crop failures. Provincial Branches of CSGA were established, clarified crop certification regulations were published and Plant Breeders Committees were established for technical support and to officially review and approve the varieties eligible for certification.
- 1924: All crops certified by CSGA must now have direct lineage to Breeder seed which made CSGA a truly pedigreed seed organization with full traceability.
- In 1924 a CSGA Appeals Board was established for final decisions on the crop kinds and varieties eligible for certification as well as members’ appeals on the certification of inspected crops.
1937 – 1959
With consistent government support, this period saw the development of disease standards for Breeder plots and isolation standards for all crops, a new Seeds Act which clarified CSGA’s exclusive authority for certification of seed crop in Canada, expansion of CSGA Branch responsibilities, the emergence of hybrid corn seed crops and most crop varieties developed by breeders in the public sector.
- 1937: Seeds Act amended to provide standards for the new grade of Certified and introduces PPD fees for seed crop inspections.
- 1938: 1938: Hybrid Corn: The first certification of hybrid seed corn began in Canada with AOSCA-equivalent isolation requirements for CSGA crop certification and prior approval by CSGA of a field plan required before seed corn crops were planted.
- 1944: Grower Standards for Elite (Select) Stock Seed Production: CSGA established performance standards and eligibility requirements, for both the probation period and successful recognition, of Elite (later Select Plot) stock seed growers.
- 1949 – 1959: Extensive Education and Publicity Investment: Although CSGA had always invested in educating seed growers and promoting the value of Certified seed, this consolidation period witnessed the beginning of increased CSGA investment in both priorities which continues today.
1960 – 1980
Despite declining direct government support for agriculture, was bolstered by new Seeds Regulations that limited the use of variety names to pedigreed seed. SeCan was launched as a distributor for varieties developed by public sector breeders and was initially managed by the CSGA. Pioneering the computerization of CSGA records by Orrin Clayton was underway as well. This period also witnessed the emergence of variety-specific Identity Preserved Programs, canola production, and varieties developed by private sector breeders.
- 1973: Breeder Seed Production Requirements: The first CSGA production requirements for Breeder seed were published and distributed to all Canadian plant breeders in the public and the private sectors.
1981 – 1999
Modernization and Adaptation
As the federal government withdrew from seed grading, increased cost recovery efforts and reduced direct support for agriculture, modernization and adaptation quickly became a necessity. This period saw seed sector consolidation, increased competition from non-pedigreed seed, the end of CSGA Branch Stock Seed Committees, creation of a $500,000 CSGA fund for seed related research, computerization of CSGA operations, development of the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI), official recognition of Quality Management Systems, a decline in public sector variety development and an increase in new crop kinds and genetically engineered varieties.
- A general recession in 1982, high-interest rates followed by drought, a subsidy war between the U.S. and Europe and historically low grain prices severely challenged Canadian farmers and reduced demand for pedigreed seed. By the mid-1980s financial constraints led to widespread privatization and cost recovery of most federal government inspection programs.
- After another recession in 1992, the government launched an ambitious review of programs and regulations that led to its Business Alignment Plan in 1994, a blend of cost recovery and cost reductions that involved sector-specific negotiations.
- 1995 – 1997: After several years of responding to consecutive government fee increases, when faced with a four-fold increase in CFIA fees to audit Registered Seed Establishments, the CSGA and CSTA agreed to develop the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI). CSI would oversee the inspections and quality assurance programs required by members, using 3rd party audited Quality Management Systems (QMS) and would be officially recognized by the CFIA.
2000 – 2018
Modernization and Response
As government withdrew from seed crop inspections and other direct support for agriculture, this required rapid privatization of crop inspection services, ISO registration of CSGA operations and building an online certification process for seed crops. In this period CSGA worked on variety segregation issues with developers of genetically engineered (GE) varieties and organic certification organizations, developed standards for the additional certification procedures required for new crop innovations like midge tolerant wheat varietal blends and also co-operated with the other national seed associations in renewed strategic planning and restructuring of the seed system in Canada.
- 2000: Breeder Seed Crop Certification Quality Management System (QMS) Standards: In response to regulatory enforcement concerns with Plant Breeders and Breeder seed, and as recommended by the CSGA Plant Breeders’ Committee, CSGA implemented ISO-audited, HACCP-type QMS standards for Breeder seed crop certification as well as suspension and cancellation compliance regulations for CSGA-recognized Plant Breeders.
- 2000 – 2004: Separation and Testing of Genetically Engineered (GE) Seed: CSGA provided extensive technical input to the Canadian General Standards Board committee that developed the standard for ‘Voluntary labelling and advertising of foods that are and are not products of genetic engineering’.
- 2003 – 2008: ISO Registration of CSGA Operations, Official Recognition of QMS: Several multi-year reviews of the seed sector confirmed CFIA plans to continue downsizing seed related programs, using accreditation models similar to those used to downsize food regulatory programs. That model involved officially recognizing service providers with 3rd party audited Quality Management Systems (QMS). In 2008, CSGA operations completed ISO 9001 registration which verifies, with annual ISO performance audits, CSGA’s ability to consistently provide services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.
- 2014: Additional Certification Requirements (ACR): CSGA introduced a unique new option for variety developers to prescribe Additional Certification Requirements (ACR). This option was used to increase minimum isolation or previous land use standards for seed crop certification of specific varieties and also to require post-harvest seed testing.
- 2012 – 2015: Seed Crop Inspection Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) System Developed: The federal Government’s spring budget of 2012 announced withdrawal of CFIA’s seed crop inspection services by 2014. For seed crops throughout Canada, CSGA developed an online inspection and certification system and the software required for crop inspectors and their CFIA auditors.
- 2015: Plant Breeders’ Rights Act Amendments: Changes in the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (Bill C-18), to comply with UPOV ’91 requirements, were a prerequisite for the Government’s consultations on alternatives for funding variety development for crops, like cereals, without the funding sources available to soybeans, hybrid canola and corn. Alternatives being considered, trailing contract royalties and end-point royalties, had huge potential to impact certified seed markets.
Looking Into the Future
CSGA’s Strategic Plan was approved by its Board of Directors in March 2017, following a year of analysis, membership engagement, consensus building and priority setting. Of the work undertaken to date in the five Key Results Areas (KRAs) that make up the Plan, advancing the CSGA’s regulatory modernization objectives through the Seed Synergy Project (KRA 4) is where CSGA expended the most effort and resources, and where the most progress was made in 2018-19.