First, what a difference a little snow makes. Much of the area received a significant, heavy snowfall. This translated into over two inches of liquid moisture and in some areas about three inches for the month. So if you want to feel better, we are at about 200 percent of normal so far this year. Seriously, this moisture will really help the wheat crop and the way most of it fell and the way it is melting couldn’t be better.
One story that made the national news over the last several weeks, involved a Midwest farmer and Monsanto. The case made it up through the court system and the ruling may have profound implications for the seed industry. Briefly, this producer purchased Roundup Ready ® soybeans and planted them. When he or any farmer does this, they agree to not keep any of the seed and replant it, a practice termed “bin running” seed. This is common under wheat production in the Great Plains and was somewhat common for soybeans before biotechnology introduced herbicide tolerance traits. You can bin run varietal plants (wheat and soybeans) because the seed will produce a plant identical to the parent. You cannot bin run hybrid crops (corn and grain sorghum) because the seed produced results from crossing different parents, i.e. if you plant the seed from a hybrid the resulting plants are not like the parent plant.
So far the farmer was okay. He got into trouble when after wheat harvest; he wanted to double crop soybeans after the wheat. His yields would be lower so he went to a local company that sells grain for feed. He purchased Roundup Ready ® soybean seed from the firm without letting them know his intent. He was essentially bin running seed but not his own. He was found out and over the last few years has been in a legal battle claiming he was in the right. Naturally, Monsanto disagrees and wants him to pay up.
If the court would rule in the farmer’s favor, it could have dramatic implications for GMO varieties. The purpose of this article isn’t to take sides, because honestly both sides have valid arguments. Rather let’s take a brief look at what would happen if the farmer would win his appeal.
Buy having to purchase this seed every year, farmers are providing substantial income to the seed company. These profits are used not only to keep shareholders happy but to develop new and improved varieties and even new traits. If farmers can bin run seed, much less seed is sold and less goes into research. The number of soybean varieties skyrocketed with the advent of GMO soybeans and various traits because there was big money in developing and selling varieties. The argument is that while you have to buy seed every year and GMO seed is much more expensive than traditional seed that you could bin run, the benefits justify the cost and allow for further advances. And nothing says you have to buy GMO seed.
The farmer argument is essentially I buy the seed, produce the crop and should be able to do what I want with it. And in this case, he didn’t keep his own seed so he didn’t violate the contract. This is an oversimplification of the situation but it covers the facts.
Let’s end with a question. How many of you know that Pioneer had a major hard red winter wheat breeding program a little over 30 years ago near Yoders? Back then their varieties accounted for major acreage in Kansas. The problem was they only sold enough seed to plant a fraction of the acreage. So they gave their germplasm to K-State and go out the wheat breeding business in Kansas. Just for kicks, look at the number of soybean varieties available in Kansas and compare that to the number of wheat varieties.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.