COLLEGE STATION – Small-grains farmers should be aware of specific regulations regarding the Plant Variety Protection Act as harvest activities slow down across the state, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Producers may be tempted to avoid federal law and should familiarize themselves with the details of the act, specifically with regards to saving or transferring seed.
“The bottom line is the risk isn’t worth the potential civil action that could be taken against someone who chooses to violate the law,” said Dr. Rob Duncan, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist.
The plant protection act began in 1970 with the original version allowing farmers to save enough seed for their own use or sell that amount to a neighbor if the original plans for the seed changed. The 1994 amendment to the Plant Variety Protection Act prohibits the sale of all farmer-saved seed without the permission of the variety owner, and each variety is covered under the act for 20 years. Seed can only be sold by its variety name as certified seed, Duncan said.
Violations of the act include selling, buying, delivering, exchanging or advertising a protected variety or selling a protected variety without permission from the variety owner. A third party can clean and condition a “reasonable” amount of seed for a farmer if the seed is only planted on the farmer’s holdings.
“Any action toward marketing a protected variety is a violation of the act,” Duncan said.
Additionally, utility patents prohibit farmers from saving, cleaning/conditioning or selling any seed under this protection.
“Examples include Clearfield wheat,” Duncan said.
Drought conditions have decreased wheat yields, which may lead to tight seed supplies, “but there will be certified seed available,” said Rob Borchardt, Syngenta Seeds Southern Plains business manager.
“We’re advising producers to book early,” Borchardt said. “Most of the certified seed is produced on the best ground and in many instances under irrigation. There will be seed available, but one needs to get ahead of the game.”
The purpose of the Plant Variety Protection Act is to encourage further development of new non-hybrid varieties in crops such as wheat, oats and other self-pollinating crops. Allowing plant breeders to determine who can sell seed of new varieties provides them with the ability to recoup investment spent in development and reinvest for future enhancements, Duncan said.
“If farmers want a new variety, the only option is to purchase certified seed,” Duncan said.
For a variety they already grow, they can save their own seed for their own use, but it needs to be quality seed, he said. And if a farmer is not going to take the time and effort to produce quality seed on their own for their own use, they are better off to purchase certified seed.
“Using the latest in seed varieties in a production system will better prepare a farmer in dealing with multiple challenges, such as disease, insects and weather events, such as too much rain or drought conditions like we are experiencing right now,” he said. “It’s worth it, because you are investing in the future of your farming operation.”
A recent settlement resulted from Plant Variety Protection infringements by a custom farmer and a conditioner who were illegally cleaning and selling TAM 111, a wheat variety developed by Texas AgriLife Research and sold by Syngenta Seeds, the licensee. The settlement includes a substantial monetary penalty for each of the defendants.
“PVP infringements not only inhibit delivery of improved technologies for farmers from Syngenta, they also diminish the effectiveness of public variety development programs,” Borchardt said.
Other cases of infringement have come to light recently from North Dakota to Texas as all developers of new small-grain varieties are protecting their intellectual property, Borchardt said.
In recent years, universities and private companies have joined together to form an educational campaign known as Farmers Yield Initiative to promote wheat research and stewardship. The initiative also provides for a hotline where anyone can anonymously report illegal seed activity via a toll free number, 887-482-5907.
More information about the protection act and wheat variety yield results are available from AgriLife Extension at http://testing.tamu.edu/wheat.