Protected wheat varieties woes – what you don´t know can hurt you
Possession isnt necessarily nine-tenths of the law, especially if the purchase is a wheat variety protected by the Plant Variety Protection Act. This misunderstood and often-ignored law may soon become more stringently enforced, largely due to the stepped-up use of DNA plant testing.
Gary Bomar, Texas Cooperative Extension agricultural agent for Taylor County, said the practice of “catching” or keeping some of the current crops production for planting the following season has long been practiced in the farming business.
“Thats not a problem in itself,” he said. “The law says farmers may save a limited amount of a protected variety seed for replanting, but they cant sell planting seed to anyone without permission from the owner. Of course, if the seed is not a protected variety, there are no restrictions.
“Variety infringement cases are popping up all over the United States, and there will be one here one day. Weve got too much wheat grown here for there not to be. Its already happened in Wichita Falls. We in Extension are always talking about an educational opportunity. But the real education in this case will be when a producer out here gets fined about $35,000. Thats going to educate them pretty quick.”
JW “Dub” Vinson owns Abilene Ag Service and Supply. He also holds the rights to WinMaster, a PVPA wheat variety thats popular among Central West Texas producers.
Vinson explained the scenario: “Say a farmer plants some of this WinMaster seed, a protected variety, and that wheat did pretty well for him. So he says, ‘Well Ill just catch some of that seed and sell it to my neighbor. Abilene Ag is entitled to a royalty from that sale. If I dont get paid that royalty or give permission for that specific sale, then its against the law. In fact its a federal offense.
“Thats the real kicker in it. Its not a misdemeanor, its a federal offense and they can carry you to the federal courthouse. And the royalty owner wins them all.”
Vinson said they win them all because DNA testing is so accurate now that a person can plant a protected variety, sell the resulting seed and wheat heads pulled from the subsequent crop can be traced to the original parent crop.
“You can tell them its against the law,” said Vinson, “and theyll say ‘Why, I bought that seed. Thats my seed and Ill do what I want with it.
“But they know its a protected variety. Its on the tag. They have to sign a form when they buy it. If a farmer brings wheat seed here for us to clean and treat, theyve got to specify what variety it is. If they tell me its a protected variety they want to clean and sell to somebody else, I tell them I wont process it. Theyll have to go somewhere else.”
Bomar summed up the problem by saying: “Even if you come to my farm and buy a PVPA wheat straight from the combine and plant it without paying the royalty, then were both guilty – even if you, the buyer, didnt know the wheat was a protected variety. Granted, I should have told you, but even if I didnt were both still technically liable.
“This is a serious matter thats going to result in some mighty unhappy folks sooner or later if things dont change.”
Quick Facts concerning the PVPA found on the Web at http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/pvpo/PVPindex.htm state:
-The PVPA provides developers of new varieties of plants patent-like rights that protect the reproduction and distribution of their varieties.
-Varieties that are protected under the PVPA can be sold as seed stocks only with permission of the certificate holder and in some cases, only as a class of Certified seed.
-Varieties that are protected must have labels on the seed containers indicating the type of protection.
-Farmers may save a limited amount of seed for replanting, but cannot sell it to anyone without permission of the owner.
For more information on the PVPA contact: Plant Variety Protection Office Dr. Paul M. Zankowski, Commissioner, 10301 Baltimore Ave. Room 401 National Agricultural Library Build. Beltsville, MD 20705. The telephone number is (301) 504-5518; email address email@example.com
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