What You Should Know About 'Generic GMOs'

With the advent of genetically modified soybean varieties two decades ago, most soybean farmers haven’t considered the prospect of saving seed for years. Since the original Roundup Ready 1 (RR1) patent expired in 2014, and the third-party patent expired in 2015, what opportunities are now on the table?

Not all RR1 soybean varieties can be saved and resold because they have Plant Variety Protection (PVP). Researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), led by Cory Walters with the school’s department of agricultural economics, say PVP has a “saved seed” exception, making it possible in some instances for farmers to replant (but not resell) these varieties themselves.

Many farmers are thinking about the potential of saving seed versus purchasing varieties with newer technology such as Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y). The decision is very complex, researchers say. Farmers need to compare:

  • The quality and cost of saved seed compared with commercial seed
  • Yield potential of RR1 varieties versus RR2Y varieties
  • The potential legal restrictions with certain varieties
 Farmers should exercise caution and  follow the law before saving Roundup  Ready 1 seed.
UNL researchers conducted soybean trials comparing RR1 and RR2Y varieties from 2012 to 2014. The researchers also factored in various costs a farmer would incur when saving seed.

“Seven specific cost categories were identified to save RR1 seed,” Walters and his colleagues report. “[They include] seed storage equipment, interest, cleaning, quality testing, labor, cleanout and transportation.”

Research results from these trials indicated no significant yield differences between saved RR1 seed and commercial RR2Y seed. That did not lead to higher net returns in 2012, but there was an advantage with higher net returns for RR1 seed in 2013 and 2014 by an average of $26.61 per acre. These results run contrary to other research conducted in 1991 and 2009, researchers note.

University of Maryland fact sheet, “Legal Liability of Saving Seeds in an Era of Expiring Patents,” explains how and when farmers can legally save seed.

“If you check with your seed dealer, understand the PVPA, read seed package labels, and pay close attention to the details of contracts you sign, you will be able to save seed legally and avoid significant legal bills and fines,” says Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland Extension legal specialist. “Following these simple steps can serve as a strategy to manage the legal risks associated with seed saving.”

The terms of your seed purchase contract might limit your right to save seed, Goeringer says. Contracts sometimes include damage clauses to specify the amount of potential damages a seed company could claim. 

You Can’t Do That!

Worried saving seed will lead to a lawsuit? Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland Extension legal specialist, looked into previous court cases for examples of selling seed in violation of the Plant Variety Protection Act. 

“Courts have not looked kindly upon creative ways around the limitations on selling seed for planting a subsequent crop,” he says.

Some of those examples have included:

  • Trading seed 
  • Gifting seed
  • Selling a standing crop so the buyer can save the seed
  • Selling seed in unmarked brown bags or “brown bag sales”
  • Bin-run or feed seed sales, where the seller knows the buyer will use it to plant a crop

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