Does Big Ag control farmers through seeds patents? Farmers don’t think so.
May. 15, 2019
You may have heard this before: “Big Ag” controls modern farming because they produce GMO seeds, which forces farmers to buy from soulless corporations. In essence, critics claim, farmers have not choice but to buy GMO seeds. And even worse, farmers are drawn to the GMO seed market by false promises, and then, because GMO seeds are patented, are contractually forced into buying new (GM) seeds every single year.
Farmers are now increasingly forced to use GM seeds simply because there are so few alternative sources of seeds remaining. The effect of this is that we’re losing renewable agriculture – the age-old practice of saving and replanting seeds from one harvest to the next.
As mentioned in The Ecologist, one solution to this growing problem would be to make patenting seeds, plants, and genes illegal. As it stands now, each GM seed is patented and sold under exclusive rights. Therefore, farmers must purchase the GM seeds anew each year, because saving seeds is considered to be patent infringement. Anyone who does save GM seeds must pay a license fee to actually re-sow them. This, of course, results in higher prices and reduced product options.
Farmers who buy GE seeds must sign contracts that dictate how their crop is grown – including what chemicals to buy – and forbid them from saving seeds. This has given corporations incredible control over the production of major staple crops in America.
Just as you have the choice on what seeds to purchase from your favorite garden store, we have the choice on what we want to buy from our favorite seed salesman,” one farmer told her. And when making that choice, a seed being from Monsanto took a distant back seat to other considerations, including seed maturity, soil types, geography and climate, tolerance to weeds, insects, or drought, yield potential and, of course, price. These considerations are important whether buying conventional, hybrid or genetically modified seeds. For another farmer, GM seed “creates less labor-intensive operations in that spraying herbicides and pesticides is easier, quicker, and more effective to control weeds and pests.
Choosing which seed a farmer is going to plant is not one that can be taken lightly. It takes planning. It takes a good understanding of how the various traits can influence a crop. It means a farmer needs to be familiar with his fields, the weather, and the soil. It’s no wonder we need crop consultants!
- He should only buy Monsanto seeds from a licensed Monsanto dealer. This doesn’t mean he can’t buy seeds from another company. “Would you buy a brand new home entertainment system out of the back of some guy’s van parked in an alley?” Scott asked. “Me neither. I rely on my seed dealers not just for the exchange of money for seed, but for the continued service year after year. They can help us both financially and agronomically. My seed dealers are part of a network of people from our John Deere dealer to our banker that help propel our business forward.”
- Patented seeds can only be used for a single commercial crop. This is the “farmers can’t save seed” objection. Most farmers don’t want to save and reuse hybrid seeds (which are almost always patented), because the traits start to break down after the second generation anyway. This Genetic Literacy Project story on F1 hybrids helps cover the issue of seed savings.
- If you buy a genetically modified seed from Monsanto (or any other company), you’ll have to use their chemicals. Not true: Companies will recommend their own chemical products, but don’t force a farmer to use them.
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