The Biotechnology Revolution in Global Agriculture _ Invention, Innovation and Investment in the Canola Sector. Biotechnology in Agriculture

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Peter W.B. Phillips and George G. Khachatourians
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CABI Publishing
Some 40% of the world’s market economy is based upon biological products and processes (Gadbow and Richards, 1990). Innovation, knowledge and technol ogy are increasingly affecting the competitive base for much of that industry. Although biotechnology applications have been with us for centuries – one of the oldest large-scale applications of biotechnologies by industrial societies was the purification of waste water through microbial treatment in the 19th cen tury – modern, Mendelian plant breeding has, since 1973, been increasingly influenced and driven by new molecular biology techniques (OECD, 1999). This transformation, which is influencing the structure and location of global agri cultural activities, has not been studied in any comprehensive way. This transformation is clearly visible in western Canada, where plant, ani mal and microbial products and processes are the base of the modern regional economy. In the past, western Canada’s competitive position in agri-food pro duction was based on high-quality land and capital-intensive production processes. That now appears to be changing, with knowledge becoming the defining factor in much of the food industry. This book examines the canola sector to illustrate this phenomenon. Innovation has been the defining feature of the canola sector for more than 40 years. Government research in the 1960s bred a new type of rapeseed with only a small amount of two undesirable traits – erucic acid and glucosinolates – and named it canola, thereby creating the base for a knowledge-based, innovation driven industry centred around Saskatoon, Canada. This precipitated a myth that Saskatoon and Canada were the centre of the global canola industry. To a point, the myth reflects reality. Initially a large portion of the research, all of the commercial varieties and an increasing proportion of the production of canola were produced in Saskatoon and the surrounding farming areas in western Canada. Nevertheless, after the first breakthrough, the research into and pro duction of canola began to disperse to other locations. With the establishment of private intellectual property rights and the devel opment of new biotechnology processes in the 1980s and 1990s, private seed and agrochemical companies began to invest in and to undertake substantial research and development in the canola sector around the world. Economic the ory suggests that innovation-driven industries like this are inherently imper fectly competitive because large up-front research and development costs and low marginal costs yield rapidly increasing returns to scale in production. When combined with the presence of spillovers that are localized, the theory suggests that over time the research, commercialization and even production activities of an innovative industry will converge on fewer locations, or even a single loca tion. Thus, the ‘myth’ of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan as the centre of the industry may be actually becoming a reality. This study examines relevant economic theories, reviews the scientific and historical base for the industry, uses scholarly citations to investigate the evolu tion of canola research across both time and geography, analyses the commer cialization and adoption of canola in western Canada and the world, and estimates the costs and benefits of innovation in the industry. This work is then used to examine prospective trends and to investigate the role of public policy in support ing and encouraging commercial success in the worldwide canola sector.
Field trial data, unlike the data for the previous three innovation stages, are not lagged. The trials are recorded in the year in which they take place. The field trials for traditionally bred varieties are not recorded in the same way as those for varieties developed using biotechnology methods. Looking only at the data