Feds catch on to seed saving woes

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SALEM, Ohio – Missouri and Ohio legislators are giving it a try, and now federal lawmakers have caught on, too.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, introduced a bill last week that would allow farmers to save seeds with patented technologies from one crop year to the next.

Kaptur, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee, said the Seed Availability and Competition Act of 2004 will level the playing field for farmers.

Expenses. Currently, holders of patented technology, including Roundup Ready and YieldGard gene traits, force farmers to pay a ‘technology fee’ each year.

Farmers are also required to sign a contract saying they won’t save seed for more than one growing season.

Violators face stiff penalties. According to Monsanto, the average U.S. settlement is $108,400. One Tennessee farm was fined $1.7 million.

Working at it. Missouri Rep. Wes Shoemyer, with help from the Missouri Farmers Union, also drafted and introduced a bill that would let farmers save seed.

That bill says farmers who want to save patented seed can register with the state department of agriculture and pay a fee of $7 for each bushel of seed saved.

For each bushel, $6 would be paid to the seed companies that hold patents on the technology, and $1 would go to administrative costs.

Any funds remaining would go to the state’s land grant university for agricultural research and development.

In Ohio. Farm and Dairy reported earlier this month about identical legislation pending in the Ohio legislature.

Those bills were introduced by Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty Township in Trumbull County and State Rep. George Distel of Ashtabula County.

Dann and Distel expect state action on the bill late this year or in the next session.

Import tariffs. Kaptur’s act, like the state initiatives, would make it legal to save patented seed as long as a producer reports what he’s saved and how much of it, and pays the technology fee.

In addition, the federal legislation proposes tariffs on imported products from countries that do not levy comparable technology fees.

Kaptur said imported grains grown from seed on which patent fees have not been paid do not undercut domestic markets.

“Our farmers are at a competitive disadvantage because of the fact that some countries which produce products from these same patented genetically modified seeds refuse to pay the patent fees.

“As a result, products derived from these seeds come into the United States at a lower price, taking market away from American producers,” Kaptur said.

Cracking down on grain imports that haven’t been assessed the technology fee is significant.

Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said a Monsanto manager told him “more than half of the soybeans exported from Brazil and Argentina are raised using this pirated technology.”

A good answer. “Rep. Kaptur’s legislation offers a common-sense resolution to this difficult situation,” said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson.

The Farmers Union worked with Kaptur to draft the legislation.

The bill is pending in the House Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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