As a person that works for a seed company I often hear confusion and complaints around the idea of “saving seeds”. When I first started working in Ag, I too was confused on the concept. I mean really, what do you do with the leftovers?
Let me use wheat for example, and clarify that I am not in any way speaking on behalf of any companies, and all companies have contracts on the topic (allowing or not allowing).
All sates have an agriculture department that monitors regulated seed. Regulated just means that somewhere along the way someone managed to perfect (usually by breeding, but GMO would fall into this as well) a seed and give it a name, file some paperwork on it to claim the specific breeding of seed. In Washington the department that monitors this for wheat is called Washington State Crop Improvement Association. Their job is to monitor and make sure seed doesn’t get we’ll say impersonated or counterfeit, that customers can trust that it is what they are told it is. They do this with a certification process.
Now to clarify more, no one is required to buy certified seed. The benefit is that it has documented results, where as with non-certified seed there is no real way to know what you have. Think buying a papered dog, papers mean its not a mutt.
However, if you choose to buy certified seed, you will often be required to enter into a contract agreeing that should you not use all of the seed you will either return the seed or dispose of it. This clause prevents “mutts”, it’s the spay or neutering of ag.
Scenario 1: farmer Joe goes out and buys seed to grow 100 acres of wheat, he is farming dry land and his field is in a good area, no real risk of disease or other issues. After planting he realizes he has seed leftover. If he purchased non-certified seed, he’s free to store it and use it again next year. Doing so he risks quality and contamination. Depending on his end goal, this may not be of concern, which is also why he may prefer non-certified seed. This is the scenario most people think about.
Scenario 2: Frank has a field in an area that tends to have issue with disease, he is limited on land, and his customer is looking for high protein levels. After researching he finds that company x has a product that seems to fit his needs. He talked to neighbor farmers and decides that he is going to purchase wheat seed 2468. The company goes over the contract with him explains the certified guarantee and the no seed saved clause. Frank gets the benefit of perfected plant breeding and if his crop has a bunch of off types or problems, the company will work with him and have some kind of resolution where he would get compensated. The company gets the benefit of the no seed saved clause so they don’t have to worry that Frank will harvest his field and then start selling the seed to neighbors – basically considered pirated seed.
When you think of it as seed its harder to see what the big deal is and why they can’t save seed, I mean they purchased it after all. But if you look at it as if it were a different product it would make perfect sense.
Look at software for example. Generally, people don’t question why when you buy Microsoft office you can’t buy one license and then download it on your computer, all the computers at the middle school, and all the computers at the high school too. Most people think, no, you need a license per computer or an agreement for multi-user.
Look at DVDs, its not considered okay to buy the movie and then distribute copies of the movie to all your neighbors. Yes, you bought it, and you bought the blank DVDs, but the base material was not yours to duplicate.
Basically the work behind the scenes is considered intellectual property. The seed itself is not the prized possession, its the breeding that went into it.