Claus Nymand (left) of plant-breeding company, KWS, leads a hybrid rye field day at Rosmann Farms in Harlan, Iowa. Pictured with organic farmer, Ron Rosmann (center), and Matt Helgeson, Albert Lea Seed (right).

(Plant breeders deserve Health Insurance too.)

Saving and/or selling seed in violation of Plant Variety Protection and/or licensing agreements is not only illegal, but also short-sighted.

by Mac Ehrhardt

President, Co-Owner
Albert Lea Seed

Yes, farmers have the right to save and plant seed that they grow on their farms – as long as they are doing this with seed varieties of seed for which this practice is legal.

If you like a variety enough that you want to save seed and replant it, it’s because a plant breeder spent years of his or her life developing that variety. Seed breeding is slow, expensive work and the most direct, logical way to pay for this work is through the paying of royalties (which are paid by companies that are selling seed legally).

Albert Lea Seed paid more than $1.2 million in genetic royalties in 2017.

We were glad to do it, because we want to support the work of people such as: Dr. Melanie Caffe (SDSU Oat Breeder, who brought us Sumo oats); Dr. Pedro Gonzalez, a soybean breeder with Schillinger Genetics, who is working on aphid-tolerant soybean varieties specifically for organic farmers; and Dr. Kevin Smith (University of Minnesota barley breeder who brought us Quest barley). Dr. Smith has spent eight years breeding winter barley to be winter-hardy, disease-resistant, and high yielding in the Upper Midwest. He has yet to release a variety, but when he does (and he will!), we all need to support his program by buying seed from legitimate seed companies who will pay royalties back to his program.

There is a good chance that the University of Minnesota will release this winter barley as a PVP variety, which will allow farmers to save and replant seed on their own farms. PVP is the best release method because it doesn’t tie germplasm up with patents, and it allows the saving of seed. However, some varieties are released with patents and/or licensing agreements, and we need to respect those as well.

Hybrid Rye is a Great Example

A great example of a variety that could not be released without licensing is KWS Brasetto Hybrid Rye. Brasetto yielded 204 Bu./acre in a Washington State trial this year, and we have customers with 120-140 Bu. field averages. Hybrid rye is the fruit of over 12 years of research by the German company KWS. In addition to those years of research, KWS is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on rye research in the U.S. (including a multi-year feeding study at the University of Illinois). So when you buy hybrid rye from us and we pay royalties, you support the breeding program and all the other product research that KWS is doing.

If you don’t want to license or Certify PVP varieties, then use varieties that do not have any I.P. Examples of these include Jerry Oats, Spooner Rye, and Robust Barley.

When organic farmers and seed suppliers don’t pay royalties on the seed they save and sell, a seed-breeding program somewhere is getting ripped off. Yes, you are stealing from the research programs that gave us these great products. But that’s not the larger point: you’re undermining research that is going to give you and all organic farmers better products for organic systems.

At the end of the day, aren’t we’re all better off moving forward together?