From Staff Reports
SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE
Saving Seed Not Always A Bad Thing
Saving soybean seeds from one year for planting in the next has long been a practice on the farm. In fact, with most soybeans, this is perfectly legal as long as one grower isn't selling the saved seeds to another. According to estimates, 20 to 30% of all bean fields are planted with saved seeds.
However, Monsanto points out that saving Roundup Ready seeds and planting them the following year violates rights granted the company under its Roundup Ready patents.
Taking off the gloves. Throwing down the gauntlet. Making an example. Use any cliche you like. Monsanto's campaign to stamp out seed piracy could land you in hot water.
Just ask David Chaney of Reed, Ky., who has admitted to illegally saving and replanting Roundup Ready soybeans. According to Monsanto, Chaney also acknowledges that in return for other goods he illegally traded pirated seed with neighbors and with an area seed cleaner for the purpose of replanting.
Chaney's settlement agreement includes a $35,000 royalty payment to Monsanto as well as full documentation confirming the disposal of his unlawful soybean crop. All those involved will provide Monsanto full access to their property for inspection, collection and testing of soybean plants for the next five years.
Chaney says he is not allowed to discuss the settlement terms. But he doesn't harbor bad feelings toward the company. "I knew that I was breaking the law," he says. "To me, it was like driving 60 in a 55-mph zone. Now I'd tell anyone that it's not worth it."
Chaney's is just one of 475 seed piracy cases nationwide that Monsanto has generated from more than 1,800 leads. Included are growers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
Scott Baucum, Monsanto's intellectual property protection manager, says when farmers illegally pirate patented biotech seed such as Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton or Bollgard cotton, everyone loses.
"Monsanto invests many years and millions of dollars in biotechnology research to bring growers new technologies sooner rather than later," Baucum says.
"When growers save and replant patented seed, there is less incentive for companies to invest in future technologies that will ultimately benefit farmers."
Several other farmers are settling with Monsanto. Their payments range from $10,000 to $25,000. The company says it's pursuing seed piracy cases in order to maintain a level playing field for all growers.
These settlements, as Monsanto describes them, are tough. Along with the cash payments, producers have been asked to destroy the crop, and some must agree to several years of inspections to ensure that saved seed is not planted again.
Despite his own brush with the "gene cops," Chaney plans to keep planting Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans. "I really like them," he says.
Background to this story:
Monsanto may take legal steps against catching soybean seeds
By WAYNE BOARD
A-J Farm Editor
Monsanto, which markets Roundup Ready soybeans, is prepared to ''take the legal steps necessary'' to ensure that growers don't catch seed from the crop for future plantings.
Although many growers often use what's commonly called ''brown bag'' or ''caught'' seed to carry over from one year to the next, that's not an option with the chemically resistant varieties, says Doug Dorsey, Roundup Ready soybean manager for Monsanto Company, which developed the technology.
''The technology that allows Roundup Ultra herbicide to be used so successfully over Roundup Ready soybeans is patented,'' he says. ''Farmers who buy Roundup Ready soybean seed cannot save the soybeans to replant on their own farms or sell the saved soybeans to their neighbors for planting.
''Patent protection is good for the entire ag industry because it encourages investment in new crop technologies that keep U.S. agriculture competitive in the global marketplace and helps American farmers feed a growing world population in environmentally sound ways.''
U.S. patent laws extend beyond the Plant Variety Protection Act, which prevents anyone from ''brown bagging'' seed varieties covered under PVPA. That means that growers can't save and replant Roundup Ready soybean varieties on their own farms.
When growers buy Roundup Ready soybean seed, they sign a statement on their seed order/invoice acknowledging that they will not save the soybeans.
''We believe most growers are honest business people who will not illegally save Roundup Ready soybeans,'' Dorsey says. ''But growers have told us they expect us to keep the playing field level.
''If they can't save Roundup Ready soybeans, they don't want their neighbors to save them either. We view it as our responsibility to ensure there is a level playing field.''
Some growers objected to a field-inspection clause in the 1996 Monsanto Roundup Ready Soybean Grower Agreement. Monsanto listened to the concerns voiced by those growers and removed the field inspection provision from the 1997 agreement so that it would not be a barrier to any grower who wants to try Roundup Ready soybean technology.
Instead, Monsanto has embarked on an educational campaign to be sure that growers and those who advise growers, such as seed dealers, ag chem retailers, seed labs, farm managers and grower and trade associations, understand that it's illegal to save and replant Roundup Ready soybeans.
The company is also educating seed cleaners and others who typically help growers who save seed to ensure that they understand that, in the case of Roundup Ready soybeans, saving seed for replanting is illegal.
Monsanto is encouraging growers and who advise or interact with growers to provide information about situations where someone is planning to plant saved or ''brown bag'' Roundup Ready soybeans.
''If we hear that someone is planning to replant saved soybeans, we'll take steps to make sure the grower understands that replanting the soybeans isn't a legal option,'' Dorsey says. ''In cases where prevention fails, we're prepared to take the legal steps necessary to protect our technology and ensure that it doesn't happen again.
''Purity of seed is always important but never more so than with Roundup Ready soybeans. You don't want to spray a soybean field with Roundup Ultra and find that a percentage of your crop isn't tolerant because the seed was contaminated.''
Other advantages of newly purchased seed can include superior seedling vigor, quality assurance (strictly enforced germination standards, known seed size for accurate calibrations, no hidden mechanical damage), seed company assistance (replant programs, exchange options, agronomic support) and higher yields.
Long-term studies by universities, crop improvement associations and seed companies indicate that yield is better with newly purchased seed. A four-year study by the Illinois Crop Improvement Association showed a 2.7 bushel per acre yield advantage from newly purchased seed over saved or brown bag seed.
Asgrow Seed studies since 1978 show that newly purchased seed has out yielded bin-run seed of the same variety 80 percent of the time, buy an average of 2.1 bushels per acre.
Information on illegal saved or brown bag Roundup Ready soybeans can be reported to Monsanto by calling 800-523-2333.