Small-grains farmers urged to comply with PVPA regulations

Soon fall will arrive and small-grains farmers will be seeding a new crop. But producers should be aware of specific regulations regarding the Plant Variety Protection Act, or PVPA.

Growers may be tempted to ignore the federal law, but should familiarize themselves with the specific details of the act, especially with regards to saving or transferring seed.

“The bottom line is the risk isn’t worth the potential civil action that could be taken against someone who chooses to violate the law,” says Robert Duncan, Texas AgriLife Extension state small-grains specialist, College Station.

Key Points

Plant Variety Protection Act protects intellectual property.

Any action toward marketing a protected variety is a violation of the act.

The drought tightened seed supply, but good seed can be booked.


The original version of the plant protection law in 1970 allowed farmers to save enough seed for their own needs — or sell that amount to a neighbor — if the original plans for the saved seed changed. But a 1994 amendment to the PVPA prohibits the sale of all farmer-saved seed without permission of the variety owner. Each variety is covered under the act for 20 years, and seed can only be sold by its variety name as certified seed, Duncan notes.

Violations of the act

PVPA violations include selling, buying, delivering, exchanging or advertising a protected variety without permission from the variety owner. A third party can clean and condition a “reasonable” amount of seed for a farmer if the seed is only planted on the farmer’s holdings.

“Any action toward marketing a protected variety is a violation of the act,” Duncan emphasizes. Additionally, utility patents prohibit farmers from saving, cleaning/conditioning or selling any seed under PVPA protection. “Examples include Clearfield wheat,” Duncan says.

Seed will be available

Drought conditions have decreased wheat yields, which may lead to tight seed supplies. “But there will be certified seed available,” says Rob Borchardt, Syngenta Seeds Southern Plains business manager, Vernon, Texas.

But growers shouldn’t wait until the last minute to secure seed.

“We’re advising producers to book early,” says Borchardt. “Most of the certified seed is produced on the best ground and, in many instances, under irrigation. There will be seed available, but one needs to get ahead of the game.”

Duncan notes the purpose of the PVPA is to encourage further development of new nonhybrid varieties in crops such as wheat, oats and other self-pollinating crops. Allowing plant breeders to determine who can sell the seed of new varieties provides them with the ability to recoup an investment spent in variety development, and reinvest in future enhancements, he says.

“If farmers want a new variety, the only option is to purchase certified seed,” Duncan says.

For a variety they already grow, farmers can save their own seed for their own use, but it needs to be quality seed. If a grower is not going to take the time and effort to produce quality seed on their farm for their own use, they are better off to purchase certified seed.

Using the latest seed varieties in a production system will help farmers deal with multiple challenges, including disease, insects and weather events, such as a drought, Duncan says. “It’s worth it because you are investing in the future of your farming operation,” he adds.

Recent case

A recent settlement resulted from PVPA infringements by a custom farmer and conditioner who were illegally cleaning and selling TAM 111, a wheat variety developed by Texas AgriLife Research and sold by Syngenta Seeds, the licensee.

The settlement included a substantial monetary penalty for each of the defendants.

“PVPA infringements not only inhibit delivery of improved technologies for farmers from Syngenta, they also diminish the effectiveness of public variety development programs,” Borchardt says.

Other cases of infringement recently have come to light from North Dakota to Texas, as all developers of new small-grain varieties are protecting their intellectual property, Borchardt notes.

In recent years, both universities and private companies have joined together to form an educational campaign known as Farmers Yield Initiative to promote wheat research and stewardship.

More about the protection act and wheat variety yield results are available online from AgriLife Extension at variety varietytesting.tamu.edu/wheat.

Fannin is with Texas A&M Agriculture Communications, College Station.

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SEED CAN BE BOOKED: Soon producers will begin planting their new winter wheat crop. Although drought was severe and decreased yields this past season, Rob Borchardt, Syngenta Seeds Southern Plains business manager, Vernon, Texas, says certified seed will be available for fall seeding.

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IT’S PROTECTED: TAM 111 is one of the most popular wheat varieties planted throughout Texas and the Southwest. TAM 111 was developed by Texas AgriLife Research and is sold by Syngenta Seeds, the licensee. It’s an example of a protected wheat variety under the federal Plant Variety Protection Act.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.