New federal seed rules regulate ‘refuge in a bag’

Federal regulations on the sale of certified seed have been clarified to allow for "refuge in a bag" blends combining pedigreed insect-resistant seed with non-resistant seed.

Canadian seed companies already have federal approval to sell wheat blends and corn blends that allow insect pests to survive at low levels and prolong the useful life of insect-resistant genetics.

Having such a "refuge" for a targeted pest cuts down on the probability that random mutations in the pest would otherwise allow it to overcome the tolerance characteristic in the plants would become persistent and widespread.

Canada’s wheat sector was the first crop sector in the world to set up such a strategy, for management of the characteristic that confers tolerance to orange blossom wheat midge in varieties such as AC Goodeve and AC Unity.

Seed companies have since picked up CFIA approval for sale of insect-resistant corn varieties that contain a required five per cent refuge in the same bag, such as Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete and Pioneer Hi-Bred’s Optimum AcreMax.

Such varieties were previously sold by themselves and required growers to plant a certain percentage of their acres to a structured refuge in bars or strips. A pre-blended refuge, on the other hand, helps ensure the "optimal proportion" of the refuge variety within an insect-resistant crop.

"Works best"

The amendments to the federal Seeds Regulations — pre-published for comment in November 2010, then published Feb. 29 this year in the Canada Gazette and in force as of Feb. 9 — clarify that a Canada pedigreed grade name — for example, "Canada Certified No. 1" — and official certification tags can be applied to plant pest tolerance management (PPTM) varietal blends.

They also clarify the requirements for the grading and labelling of pedigreed seed of PPTM varietal blends, to ensure their "truthful representation in the marketplace," the federal government said.

Previous versions of the Seeds Regulations didn’t "clearly define" the requirements for the grading and labelling of seed of varietal blends of two varieties of the same species for the major agricultural crop kinds such as wheat, corn and soybeans.

"It is expected that the amendments will, in the long run, enhance uptake of the PPTM varietal blend strategy, thereby prolonging the efficacy of plant pest tolerance characteristics to the benefit of the agriculture sector as a whole," the government said in its regulatory impact analysis statement.

Without a refuge strategy, for instance, it’s estimated that orange blossom wheat midge would overcome midge-tolerant wheat in less than 10 years.

"These amendments will help producers choose the pest management strategy that works best for their crops and allows seed producers to better market their innovative products," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a release Tuesday.

"Blends intended to manage pests can help increase crop yields, maintain crop quality and improve a producer’s bottom line, benefiting the entire Canadian agriculture sector."

Related story:
Terms of grading proposed for pedigreed seed blends, Nov. 8, 2010

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