EXCERPT: The Illinois Farm Bureau's position, reached a decade after Monsanto began selling its patented seeds, is believed to be the first from a large soybean-producing state that challenges the seed giant's patent rights.
COMMENT: Note also this interesting comment which is suggestive as to why so many U.S. farmers are "choosing" GM seed: "We think (the resolution is) fair," said Henry Kallal, a delegate who represents farmers in six counties in or near the Metro East. "The farmers I represent say it's virtually impossible to find non-GMO seeds now." And who's been buying up the seed companies?
Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seeds
By Repps Hudson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7 December 2005
The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging a fresh look at federal laws that bar farmers from keeping patented plants' seeds from one year to the next.
The immediate target appears to be Monsanto Co.'s patented Roundup Ready soybeans, which comprise more than 80 percent of U.S. soybean production.
Illinois farmers produce one-fifth of the nation's soybeans. This year's harvest is estimated to be 3.04 billion bushels.
A resolution, approved Monday night, reflects the financial pressures on many farmers, who chafe at paying a premium for patented seeds. It also encouraged more research on seed technology by the private and public sectors.
The Illinois Farm Bureau's position, reached a decade after Monsanto began selling its patented seeds, is believed to be the first from a large soybean-producing state that challenges the seed giant's patent rights. The patented soybeans resist Roundup herbicide, which Monsanto also sells.
Farmers, struggling with higher fuel and fertilizer costs, want to save money by keeping Roundup Ready soybeans for their own use and planting them in later years. Monsanto has fought this practice in the courts.
Tamara A. White, the Farm Bureau's director of commodities, said four lawsuits involving brown-bagging are pending in Southern Illinois.
Brown-bagging is the centuries-old practice of saving the seed from a crop to be used in later years. Monsanto's Roundup soybean-use agreement specifically prohibits the practice. If farmers were allowed to brown bag seeds, experts say the resulting reduced sales would cut into the amount of money available for further research into genetically modified crops.
Lyle Roberts, executive director of the Illinois Soybean Association, said it's in farmers' long-term interest to ensure that companies doing research and development on GM seeds receive an attractive return on their investments.
"We believe you should let the marketplace decide. Farmers who plant these seeds make more money," said Roberts. "We think everyone should be working harder to get these products accepted in world markets."
"As far as this affects our business, it's not law," said Tami Craig Schilling, a spokeswoman for Monsanto. "We believe the farmer who loses access to technology in the long term is at risk. Patents protect invention and secure investment and innovation."
The American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington passed a similar resolution several years ago, said Michelle Gorman, a spokeswoman on biotechnology issues.
"Is there a way that farmers could save their seed and pay the tech fee?" Gorman said. "Farmers here see farmers around the world paying less for seeds, and they think that's unfair. You see 'brown-bagging' in Brazil. You see 'brown-bagging' in Argentina."
The Illinois Farm Bureau's resolution said if Congress were to amend the Plant Variety Protection Act, it should consider allowing farmers to keep the seeds from plants grown from patented seeds and to pay a reduced royalty. Farmers could use those seeds only on their own farms and would not be allowed to sell them.
Gorman said Monsanto's patents on genetically modified organisms are protected under a federal utility patent. The Supreme Court has ruled that a utility patent for seeds supersedes the Plant Variety Protection Act, she said.
"We think (the resolution is) fair," said Henry Kallal, a delegate who represents farmers in six counties in or near the Metro East. "The farmers I represent say it's virtually impossible to find non-GMO seeds now."
The 357 delegates, representing countries and districts throughout Illinois, approved the resolution after 35 minutes of debate, said White, and reducing subsidies to farmers, the delegates on Tuesday adopted language that urges the U.S. government to get countries - particularly Japan, South Korea and those in the European Union - to lower agricultural tariffs and subsidies, said Kallal, who chaired the farm-policy task force.
In addition, delegates supported some form of "income assurance" that would protect U.S. farmers when crops fail or market prices are low. They also want to see more government support for "green payments"; for practicing land and habitat conservation.