Illegal Seed Buying and Selling is Your Problem Too

by | May 29, 2023 | Cereals Seed Varieties

Spring means that seed is a top-of-mind priority for everyone. That makes it the perfect time for a reminder: buying or selling seed that is Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) protected from anyone other than a seed company or an authorized retailer is totally, completely, always illegal. According to the PBR legislation that covers 96 per cent of cereal and pulse varieties on the market, farmers’ privilege allows an individual to save and replant seed for their own use. However, farmers are NOT allowed – and let me add, have never been allowed – to sell or trade seed that’s protected.

According to Crop Insurance reports to the Canadian Grain Commission, 97.8 per cent of CWRS wheat acres planted in 2022 used a PBR-protected variety. This means that any common wheat traded between farmers was likely a violation of PBR. The numbers are very similar for all cereal and oilseed crops.

If you’re selling stored seed privately, stop. If you’re buying from a neighbour, friend, family member or social media post, stop. No matter your justification or assumptions, you’re acting illegally. In fact, new PBR legislation now allows the law to pursue those who aid and abet illegal sales. For example, a seed cleaning plant that cleans seed knowing it’s going to be illegally sold can carry legal responsibility for the theft as well.

If you’re aware of someone buying or selling stored seed, speak up. I know that in farming, budgets are often tight and neighbours do their best to look out for each other. It may feel difficult and uncomfortable to call out a neighbour or a friend for cheating the system. However, it’s not just an anonymous theft between a farmer and a faceless company: it directly cheats you too.

With every purchase of certified seed, a portion of the cost is returned to the developer to reinvest in future development. Intellectual property theft means that fewer dollars are available to invest in bringing new varieties with improvements in yield, disease resistance or other traits to market, which in turn means farmers miss out on the benefits new varieties could have delivered.

A couple weeks back, I spent two full days in meetings with all parts of the seed industry talking about what we as an industry can do to crack down more strongly on the illegal buying and selling of seed. It’s a challenging problem but we’re committed to working together to tackle the issue. Legislation is on our side. Currently, there are two different sets of PBR legislation that seed varieties can fall under, depending on if they were granted rights before or after a significant change in 2015. Most new varieties are encompassed by the newer legislation, which has significantly more bite to it and extends liability beyond the seller.

Make no mistake: people acting illegally are getting caught. This industry is a small world, and cheaters tend to get found out. A couple years ago, we at Alliance Seed finalized one of our bigger ever PBR settlements with a group in Southern Alberta who had been illegally selling, among other varieties, ACC Elie wheat. They ended up paying in damages and legal fees many multiples of the value of the seed they’d sold.

You may think you are saving a few bucks by getting your seed from a neighbour or friend, but you’re likely to end up with a headache, not only from poorly performing seed but also from the repercussions of the law.

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Jodee Karlowsky

General Manager, Alliance Seed — Jodee Karlowsky was recently promoted to general manager of Alliance Seed and has spent the last 13 years of her career passionately marketing all things Alliance Seed. When not at work, Karlowsky enjoys knitting with her yarn stash, reading Scottish detective novels, making to-do lists for her husband, and spending quality time with him and the Alliance Seed mascot, Finley the Labrador (@finleykabowey).