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Don't Brown Bag Protected Seed

It's illegal and violations carry big fines.

Don't get caught up in a brown-bagging scheme this spring.

The unauthorized sale of seed from protected crop varieties is prohibited by federal law, warns Steve Sebesta, North Dakota State Seed Department deputy seed commissioner.

It's commonly called "brown bagging" because the seed is packaged in plain, brown bags.

For you protection look for certification tags.

"The buyer's proof of certification is a valid seed tag or a bulk-sale certificate issued by an official seed certification agency, such as the North Dakota State Seed Department," Sebesta says. "Seed dealers are required, by law, to provide this documentation with each container of certified seed they sell."

Additionally, North Dakota seed laws require that seed sold in the state be labeled with specific information regarding the quality of the seed. This information must include the name of the kind and variety, lot identification number, origin, weed seed content, other crop seed content, percentage of inert matter, germination percentage and test date. The full name and address of the person who labels or offers the seed for sale also must be included. Proper labeling is required for all seed, even if it is not a protected variety.

"Brown-bagging seed is considered by some as a way to circumvent the legal process of seed sales and the payment of royalties or research fees to the variety owner," Sebesta says. "However, those engaged in this illegal practice risk significant penalties. Violators of the PVP Title V seed law may be fined, and those fines can extend to the conditioner, seller, buyer or anyone who assists in the unauthorized sale of protected varieties."

Recent cases in North Dakota and other states show how costly illegal seed sales can be. In the last several years, the State Seed Department has levied fines and fees totaling $124,933. In November 2004, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. was awarded $362,000 in damages arising from the illegal sale of one of its wheat varieties in Arkansas. Closer to home, Agripro Wheat, a division of Syngenta Seeds, recently announced a federal district court judgment of $49,000 against LB Grain Inc. of Lake Bronson, Minn., for the unauthorized sale of an AgriPro variety. All parties involved, including the seller, conditioner and buyer, are responsible for understanding the limitations of PVP laws.

"Seed certification ensures that high-quality seed of known genetic identity and purity is available to the agricultural industry," Sebesta says. "Illegal seed sales are detrimental to the entire seed industry."

The State Seed Department monitors seed sale activities, including advertising placed in newspapers and trade magazines. The regulatory program manager investigates suspicious advertising and takes appropriate action when warranted.

For more information about seed sales or a list of protected varieties, contact the State Seed Department or the USDA Plant Variety Protection Web site at

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