A question arose recently from a farmer who still grows non-GMO soybeans. Everyone knows that Roundup Ready soybeans can't be saved for seed. Monsanto has made that very clear, and has sued not only farmers but also seed cleaners in an effort to protect their property rights concerning that variety. But what about non-Roundup Seed? Before Roundup Ready, many farmers kept soybeans from their own crop, had them cleaned, and then used them as seed? What's the status today?
Technically, the answer is 'yes,' you can save non-GMO seed you grew and replant it, says Larry Nees, State Seed Commissioner in Indiana. However, there's a big caveat attached which wipes out the vast majority of varieties that might qualify under that umbrella, he notes.
There are two federal laws that impact non-GMO seed. One is the plant variety protection act. Basically, companies protect their seed with a patent, which legally prevents the farmer from regrowing it to use as his own seed. This one has been on the books for a long time, but wasn't enforced in every case until Monsanto stepped up the ante with Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton, and chose to vigorously pursue those who might try to violate the law and save seed.
Second, companies today can also ask for plant protection on soybeans that have certain qualities. If it's granted, those soybeans can't be saved for seed either.
"The bottom line is that yes, you could do it, but there are very few varieties left out there that aren't protected by one of the two laws," Nees says.
Public varieties, often developed at universities, were popular in the '80s and even '90s, until Roundup Ready showed up. A few of those were protected, but many weren't. They could be kept for seed, but there's just hardly any left in this part of the country, Nees says. Occasionally, he runs across a variety that a company hasn't protected for whatever reason. That variety could also be kept for seed.
The key is that the original source of the seed, which you grew yourself, can't be from a protected variety under any federal code. Telling isn't that difficult, he says. If a variety is protected, it should be noted on the seed tag. Companies should also be able to tell you whether a variety is protected or not.
The onslaught of Roundup Ready soybeans and stringent enforcement of their rights by Monsanto has led many mobile seed cleaners to park their trucks. There are still a few that operate, Nees says, but they are typically very careful about the seed they clean. If seed they clean was sampled and found to contain the Roundup gene, for example, they would be in violation just like the farmer who saved the seed.