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The Plant Variety Protection Act isn't a conspiracy.

Of all the various "conspiracy theories" that make some homesteaders nervous, one we hear about most often is the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970. According to the theory, this is merely a ploy to outlaw open-pollinated seeds, and therefore seed-saving, thus insuring that we have to keep running back to the giant seed companies for new stocks each planting season.

However, in a telephone interview, Dr. Charles Glover, New Mexico State University agronomist told us that saving protected crop variety seed for next season's planting is perfectly legal. The illegal act is selling that seed.

He explained that die PVPA protects a new variety's developer pretty much like a patent protects an inventor.

"Normally, more than a million dollars and up to 10 years of research is required to develop and release a new variety," Dr. Glover said. Selling the seed of a protected variety without proper authorization is virtually stealing the results of the owner's research and marketing programs.

He admitted that most seed companies are reluctant to bring charges against farmers violating PVPA laws, because those farmers are also their customers. He also pointed out that the laws protect growers by ensuring that the seed they buy is the legal variety, with all the enhancements intended by the plant breeder.

Hybrids, he noted, don't need the protection of law. You can save and plant hybrid seeds, but there's no telling what you'll get. There are many new varieties, especially of such farm seeds as sorghum and wheat, that are not hybrid. The PVPA was designed to protect the developers of these, he explained.

It's true that many old varieties, especially open-pollinated ones, are no longer offered by the major seed companies. But this is largely a result of supply and demand. Most growers prefer the newer varieties.

However, the scarcity of older and less popular varieties is providing an opportunity for smaller seedsmen who can fill this market niche by propagating and selling them.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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