RR Soybeans Off Patent But Still Restricted

The one company committed to selling off-patent Roundup Ready 1 soybeans in 2012 says it will use contracts to ensure farmers don’t save and reuse the seed.

But Pioneer Hi-Bred will continue to make the seed available for one-time use only once it comes off patent in August, 2011 at least until 2014, a company official says.

“Pioneer (Hi-Bred) packaging and invoice language restricts the use of (any) seed purchased to a single crop and that will remain to be the case after the patent (expires),” Dave Harwood, Pioneer Hi-Bred’s technical services manager said in an interview last week.

“It will be the same approach that has been used for our non-patented materials all along.”

Monsanto says farmers can save seed from their 2012 crop of RR1 soybeans for planting in 2013 so long as there are no contractual obligations with the seed company saying they can’t.

But when a farmer signs a purchase invoice to buy RR1 soybean seed from Pioneer Hi-Bred, he or she is also signing an agreement not to save the seed.

FARM-SAVED SEED

Pioneer Hi-Bred will continue selling RR1 soybeans until 2014 when it plans to launch its new Optimum GAT soybeans, which, in addition to glyphosate resistance, adds resistance to Group 2 herbicides, Harwood said. Optimum GAT soybeans will make it easier to control volunteer Roundup Ready canola.

Meanwhile, other soybean seed companies say they plan to supply some RR1 seed this year (which can’t be saved for seed), but only offer patented Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans in 2012, making it impossible to legally grow RR1 seed that can be saved by the farmer for future planting.

Soybean company officials say the new RR2 soybeans yield seven to 11 per cent better than RR1 so most farmers won’t want to grow RR1 anyway.

But some industry observers say there will be farmers that want access to RR1 just on principle.

“Some farmers believe they’ve been paying through the nose for Roundup Ready soybeans and they want to save their own seed,” one said.

PERFORMANCE

There’s also some skepticism about how much RR2 soybeans will perform.

“A 10 per cent jump in yield one year to the next is just unheard of,” one industry participant said. “However, I’m sure RR2 varieties will be much stronger than RR1s in four or five years just because every year there are incremental yield improvements.”

While Monsanto can’t guarantee that RR2 soybeans will outyield RR1s on every farm, trials on Manitoba farms demonstrate the RR2 varieties are better, Monsanto spokeswoman Trish Jordan said in a recent interview. The results are available on Monsanto’s website.

“The growers will sit down and do the math and with our products the numbers will have to make sense to them,” Jordan said. “We work hard to make sure we introduce something that has that step change so they will want to adopt this.

“Everything we’ve seen shows growers want and are looking for new technology and everything we’ve seen in Roundup Genuity fields in Canada so far shows us that the enhanced yield potential is definitely there.”

Even if there’s no legal way to save RR1 soybean seed, it’s likely prices for RR1 seed will be lower, Harwood said.

“I think it’s fair to say there will be a price adjustment in the marketplace,” he said. “This is a significant event, the expiry of this patent. With the expiry of a patent… there tends to be increased competition and therefore price adjustments.”

ATTRACTIVE

In addition, Pioneer will do everything it can to make purchasing new seed attractive to farmers, including offering up-to- date seed treatments and convenient handling and storage options.

Craig Riddell, president of the Manitoba Seed Growers Association, is worried with most companies planning to only offer RR2 soybeans in 2012 there won’t be enough early-and mid-season varieties to meet the growing demand in Manitoba.

It’s a concern shared by Bruce Brolley, manager of Agri-Industry Development and Innovation with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Nine new RR2 soybeans were approved last year, but all but three are later-maturing varieties and two of those are late mid-season varieties.

Some early-maturing RR 2 varieties will be approved and multiplied this year too, Brolley said. But one year might not be enough time.

“If there’s a high demand for soybean seed in 2012 I’m worried we won’t have enough early Roundup Ready 2s to meet the demand,” he said.

Manitoba’s soybean industry needs a plan B, he said. One option would be for seed companies to continue selling RR 1 soybeans in 2012, even if it means farmers have to agree not to save the seed.

But even with that proviso, seed companies are worried some farmers will save seed anyway and that could undermine future sales of their RR 2 varieties.

It’s an issue the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association will watch closely, association president Andrew Saramaga said last week. Saramaga said he wants to discuss the matter with fellow directors before commenting further. The association is expecting to get feedback from members during Ag Days this week in Brandon, he said. [email protected]

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“Ifthere’sahighdemandforsoybeanseedin2012I’mworriedwewon’thaveenoughearlyRoundupReady2stomeetthedemand.”

– BRUCE BROLLEY

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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