Ohio LegislatureFarmers fight to save crop seeds

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SALEM, Ohio – Farmers carry on the traditions their ancestors started, tilling the land and reaping harvests.

But they say the big boys – multinational companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Novartis, who have improved seed technology – have stopped them from one of the oldest farming traditions: keeping seeds to carry over to the next planting season.

Ohio legislators are considering measures that would allow Buckeye State farmers to keep and replant seeds with patented technologies.

Get it moving. The legislation, H.B. 513 and S.B. 252, were concurrently introduced in both the House and Senate in late May by lawmakers from Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.

“It’s a tradition for farmers to carry over seeds. This would help them continue that tradition,” said Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty Township, a bill sponsor.

“It seems the companies are penalizing farmers for buying more of their product,” he said.

State Rep. George Distel introduced the legislation in the House.

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

Most farmers don’t even know what the specific fee is, because it’s calculated in the retail price of each unit of seed. The fee is currently more than $9 per 50-pound bag of seed, according to Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmer’s Union, which helped draft the new legislation.

He said the fee has been raised twice in the past year.

In order to even buy the seed, farmers must sign a technology agreement to “help protect growers and Monsanto from the misuse – and possible loss – of these products,” according to Monsanto.

That agreement makes it illegal to save plant seed for more than one growing season.

“Farmers appreciate Monsanto’s research investment, and are willing to pay a premium for the product because it simplifies the management of their modern farming systems,” said Ohio Farmers Union president Joseph Logan.

Logan is a Trumbull County farmer.

“However, farmers do not appreciate having to re-invest in the technology fee each year when they acquire the seeds they need for the upcoming growing season.”

Proposed legislation. The bill is structured to allow companies to be paid for genetically modified seed technology, and allow farmers the right to save the seed and reduce their production costs.

The bill says that a farmer who saves patented seed at harvest for replant will register with the Ohio Department of Agriculture the type of seed and the number of bushels to be retained for replant.

The producer will also pay the department a $7 per bushel fee of seed retained.

Of this amount remitted, $6 will be paid to the patent holder of the genetically engineered seed, and $1 will be retained for the department’s administrative costs.

In addition, this bill gives civil immunity from liability for farmers who plant the saved patented seed.

“Ohio’s farmers have plenty of challenges in the marketplace. This bill offers farmers a long overdue chance to supply their own seed, saving money and breaking the grip of a single patent holder’s control of the supplies they need,” Logan said.

Heavy fines. Traditionally, farmers could save most commercial seed varieties to replant because of the Plant Variety Protection Act.

Seed varieties with the technology are protected under federal patent law and cannot be saved, regardless of use.

Monsanto has gone after several farmers who have violated their technology agreement by saving seeds.

In Ohio alone, the average settlement paid in 2003 by farmers breaking the contract is $21,900, according to Monsanto’s seed piracy summary.

The average U.S. settlement is $108,400. One Tennessee farm was fined $1.7 million.

Timeline. Distel and Dann are working together to get the legislation rolling and concurrent hearings for both chambers will hopefully speed the process, Distel said.

Distel said the legislature could hear testimony on the bills in November or December or in the next session.

(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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