Recently, with the expiration of the U.S. patent of the original Roundup Ready soybean trait (RR1) in 2014 and the third party patent in 2015, many questions about saving seed have started to surface. Don’t be fooled, patent law and seed technology can be complicated. If you buy a soybean variety with the Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2) trait, most understand it cannot be resaved and planted. However, if you buy a soybean variety with RR1, even though the RR1 trait patent has expired, most of these varieties are still covered by other U.S. patents to protect specific characteristics or agronomic traits.
The variety itself may be patented. For example, there are native (not genetically modified) traits that help soybean varieties resist soybean cyst nematodes or disease. There are also patents for specific genetics, breeding technologies, and other transgenic traits. Some university breeding programs are providing RR1 public soybean varieties; however, some of these can also be patented. If a RR1 soybean variety happens to be patent-free, it could still have a PVP (Plant Variety Protection) or breeder’s right certificate, meaning this variety can only be saved and replanted within fields that you own or operate, not share with your neighbors.
If you are not sure if seed is covered by a patent, you can check the bag tag, invoice or check with the breeder or seed supplier, but the vast majority of soybean varieties have a patent. If so, a license from the patent owner is needed to save seed and replant. When a farmer buys patented seed, he agrees to use technology responsibly. Random farm checks for compliance occur and penalties for violators can take place. Remember, the purchase of soybean seeds with U.S. patents aid in the funding of research and development of new soybean technology that will help increase soybean yields in the future.
In most cases, saving and replanting soybean seed is not the most profitable option. Many farmers do not realize the expense of seed storage, equipment, seed cleaning, quality testing, labor, cleanout and transportation of soybean seed. These costly measures ensure a high standard of seed quality, maintain seed germination and produce seeds that are free of weed seed. Seed must be stored in very specific conditions and companies have quality control standards that must be met. Without proper storage of seed, you could be sacrificing variety performance and maximum yield potential. Saved seed does not have the benefit of agronomic services that comes with seed purchased from a reputable seed supplier. Treating the seed must be done by a seed supplier in accordance with regulatory and legal obligations and if seed is not treated, you may be lacking insurance needed to guarantee yield.
Many complain about the price that comes with new genetic modified traits or seed costs, but we must not forget that soybean breeding programs are constantly bringing us better agronomic traits and characteristics each year to ensure the best performance in particular environments. Companies are trying to remain competitive by seeking fair compensation. By saving seed, you could be missing out on intellectual property and other attributes within new soybean varieties that bring genetic improvement —that averages to 1/3 of a bushel per acre increase—to the American farmer each year.