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A new life for old varieties

Out with the old and in with the new does not quite cut it in one area of Alberta. There is still value in older seed varieties. With three oat varieties being rejuvenated on the Mastin Seeds farm near Sundre, Bob Mastin has proved that sometimes old is still good. “I look at some of these older varieties, and I think they still have potential. While they might not fit the marketing model for larger seed companies, they work with the business model that we have set up,” he explains.


November 30, 1999
By Bruce Barker

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Out with the old and in with the new does not quite cut it in one area of Alberta. There is still value in older seed varieties. With three oat varieties being rejuvenated on the Mastin Seeds farm near Sundre, Bob Mastin has proved that sometimes old is still good. “I look at some of these older varieties, and I think they still have potential. While they might not fit the marketing model for larger seed companies, they work with the business model that we have set up,” he explains.

Mastin picked up marketing rights for AC Mustang oat several years ago, AC Juniper oat in 2009, and is currently finalizing marketing rights for Derby oat. He is also looking at Pronghorn and Pika triticale and a hard red spring wheat variety.
 
The Alberta Wheat Pool originally had the marketing rights to AC Mustang and AC Juniper. United Grain Growers had the rights to Derby. Both companies are now part of Viterra. In the case of AC Mustang and AC Juniper, the company gave up the marketing rights, and Mastin now has the distribution rights for those varieties, and pays royalties back to the plant breeding organization. In the case of Derby, Mastin will be a sub-distributor for the oat variety. 

The relaunch of AC Mustang has been a success story. Mastin took over production and marketing several years ago. In his first year, he had 600 acres of Pedigreed seed production in the ground. In 2010, his fourth year, he had more than 2000 acres of Pedigreed seed production, which could result in approximately 200,000 bushels of certified seed available for spring seeding in 2011. At a seeding rate of three bushels per acre, that means nearly 70,000 acres of commercial AC Mustang production.

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Lower costs increase demand
Mastin has been successful with his re-introduced varieties because of his marketing program that makes certified seed just as attractive as bin-run seed. Called the Mastin Method, he focuses on low royalty payments on certified seed (negotiated with the breeding institute) that result in a fair price and a high quality product that is readily available.

Mastin originally launched this marketing method with Sundre barley, and is now employing it with his resurrected varieties. Sundre and AC Mustang have sold out every year with very little promotion, and common seed sale of AC Mustang has been drastically reduced. “In the cereals market, approximately 15 percent of seed planted is certified seed. The rest is common seed. By lowering our price, we’re trying to get more of the seeded acres into certified seed. When we quadruple those certified acres, the breeding institute gets more royalties, and farmers have a better product going in the ground,” explains Mastin.

Mastin’s approach has been successful because of low cost production, but also because he delivers a high-quality product. When the price of certified seed approaches that of bin-run seed that has been run through a cleaner, Mastin says his customers would rather use certified seed and eliminate the hassle of trucking and cleaning their own seed. “We are producing a high quality product that can perform better than bin-run seed.”
In addition to his own production, Mastin has 80 Sundre and 60 AC Mustang seed growers producing seed for him.  He works with those growers to help keep costs down and production up, resulting in a high quality product that keeps prices lower.

Mastin picked up AC Juniper in 2009, hoping it would be a good variety for the milling market. However, it has been dropped from the milling oat category, and he will now be marketing it as high yielding, early maturing feed oat.

Derby, though, is a milling oat, and Mastin hopes to increase the demand for it using his marketing method.

He is also planning on marketing Pronghorn spring triticale and Pika winter triticale. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development developed these two varieties and decided to make them publicly available to seed companies. Although he will not have exclusive rights to these two varieties, Mastin hopes to capture significant market share using his low cost approach to seed production.