As I have had the opportunity to talk about my soybean crop, I’ve realized people have some of the same questions I did about soybeans. Is it really illegal for farmers to keep their own seed? Does the government force us to grow GMO crops?
I think these are important questions and with all the misinformation available, I wanted to tackle them head on.
Is it really illegal for me to keep soybean seed from #My60acres to plant next year?
The short answer is – yes, it is! When we decide to purchase certain seeds, we sign a contract that we will not keep seed to replant. But why the heck would farmers be OK with that?
The seed we chose to plant #My60Acres with wasn’t selected hastily. We have to consider dozens of different risk factors. What type of soil is on the farm, how do they drain? What are our normal weather patterns, what’s expected for this year? How early or late is it in the planting season? What pests, weeds, and disease do we normally deal with? Are there new ones we may have to fight this year?
Researchers and scientists from multiple companies spend their careers looking at each of those risk factors that farm families like ours deal with. Each year, new seed traits are being developed to help us navigate through those risks.
That research and development takes a lot of money. And I mean A LOT! On their website, Monsanto reports they spend $2.6 million dollars PER DAY on research. DuPont reported an even higher budget for research and development of $1.6 billion for 2016. After the research is complete, companies have enormous expense in testing and obtaining approvals for the new seeds.
To allow companies to profit after all that time and expense, and more importantly to continue to encourage innovation for farm families, they use the same system that every other industry does to protect intellectual property – the patent system. Nearly all seeds we choose to plant on our farm are protected by a US patent.
For an easy analogy – think of your favorite Disney movie. You can buy the DVD for $19.99 on Amazon and watch the movie as often as you’d like. But that does not give you the right to make a thousand copies of the DVD and sell them. That would also be illegal! Disney still owns the intellectual property – even though you bought the DVD!
Eventually those patents will expire (the original round up ready patent already has), but by that time most farmers will be moved on to newer technologies.
There are public soybean varieties available to use if farmers choose to. They can keep their own seed from these. There are however other management factors to consider with keeping seed – it needs to be carefully stored through the winter and professionally cleaned. It also needs to be sorted for size and quality. Once planted, there is no protection in place from a company if the seed fails to come up. For some farmers, saving their own seed is a very practical way to farm each year and there are options for them to be able to do just that.
For our farm, and many others, paying the premium for patented seed with added risk protection is well worth the additional cost and giving up our right to keep seed for the next growing season.
Does the government force us to grow GMO crops or subsidize us to?
The answer to both is no. To date, I am unsure of how the GMO subsidy rumor started, but we are unaware of any available government program to support or supplement growing GMO crops. We do however have people frequently ask us about it.
The government also does not force us to plant GMO – or any other type of seed.
We have a choice on what companies we do business with and what products we purchase. It's also important to point out that numerous companies develop GMO traits, and even more companies sell them to farmers. But like almost anything in agriculture, the choice is really less about what company we do business with and more about what person we do business with.
Example – our “seed guy” now is the same seed guy my father-in-law has done business with for almost 40 years. He has changed companies a few times – from smaller companies, to larger ones, back to smaller ones - but Steve always stuck with him. And now Matt sticks with him. Because we know him, we trust him. We consider him family.
More so than any other industry, agriculture is a relationship industry. We work with, and spend money with, people we like. People we trust. People we often times consider part of our family. Sometimes those people work for “Big Ag”. Sometimes they don’t. But farmers don’t do business with corporations or small companies. Farmers do business with people.