The message contained a statement that the PVPA Amendment will lead
to higher seed prices, fewer choices, and would "fly in the face
sustainable agriculture". I would like to present another
viewpoint of the situation.
First, seed prices. Since the passage of the PVPA in 1970, seed
costs have actually decreased slightly from 2.4 to 2.2% (1991) of
the total farm production expenses in North Carolina. The numbers
are not available for 1992 and 1993, but I expect the trend is the
As for fewer seed choices, the number of varieties available for
farmers has increased dramatically since 1970. For example in
1970, there were 20 varieties and 14 experimentals in our official
variety tests for small grains and 15 varieties/10 experimentals
for soybeans. In 1993, we had 35 small grain varieties/14
experimentals, and for soybeans, 94 varieties with 32
Amending the PVPA will not negatively impact seed price or the
number of choices. If anything seed companies can keep a variety
active longer, providing more choices for producers. More choices
will keep prices down and competitive.
I am surprised that a representative of the Institute for
Biodiversity does not recognize that diversity in varieties (and
genetics) of our major and minor crops species is absolutely
essential for agriculture. The lack of diversity almost wiped out
the corn crop in the 1970's. Without continued variety development
by private and public institutions, farmers would have no choices
to make and would have to rely on their own grains or rely on non-
professional, non-regulated seed producers to supply them with
seeds. Farmers face enough challenges just dealing with weather
and pest control. The addition of seed stocks of unknown genetic
origin or purity will only lead to low quality crops and reduced
As for "flying in the face of sustainable agriculture", if
anything, protecting breeders rights will strengthen our efforts
make all agriculture sustainable and environmentally sound. In a
recent study, we have found that many farmers who save their own
wheat seed or sell brown bag seed to their "neighbors" do not
condition or clean the seed. In some farmer-saved samples, we
found tremendous quantities of weed seed. Planting these
contaminated seed increase the need for herbicides. This is
sustainable agriculture? I think not.
In the same study, we found several farmer-saved samples
mislabelled for variety or mixtures of varieties. New varieties
are being developed with specific disease or insect resistance.
These resistances have helped keep the use of pesticides at a
minimum. Getting the wrong variety from your neighbor could lead
to unexpected pests problems that must be controlled.
Farmers must have a continual supply of adapted varieties to choose
from. If we do not assure plant breeders that they have the right
to protect their investments, the release of varieties in the US
will decrease and in some species may cease entirely. Farmers
surely can not afford this.
As the Seed Specialist with the North Carolina Cooperative
Extension Service, I am constantly in contact with farmers. When
I ask them what can we do to help, overwhelming numbers of them say
help develop new varieties for our area. Most farmers realize the
importance of diversity and continued variety development. I hope
organizations that support sustainable and environmentally sound
agriculture realize its importance.
Under the PVPA, farmers may save seed of a protected variety for
use on their own farm. Even though this is not generally in the
best interest of the farmer, this practice is not being questioned
under the amended Act. However, illegal sales of seed of these
protected varieties should be the concern of every farmer, farm
organization, and even the Institute for Biodiversity. The loss
any public or private breeding program could have a major impact
agriculture productivity and profitability.
-- Janet Ferguson E-Mail : jferguso@wolf Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone : (919)515-4070