The number of prairie farmers who were caught selling protected seed varieties on the black market last year was up significantly, according to SeCan, one of Canada’s leading seed distribution organizations.
In 2015, more than 400 cases involving potential illegal sales of PBR protected seeds and proprietary technologies required investigations and follow-ups.
SeCan alone had 40 cases that resulted in legal action.
To date, 20 of those cases have resulted in monetary settlements with prairie farmers who were involved in illegal sales of protected seed products.
Todd Hyra, SeCan’s business development manager for Western Canada, said the number of settlements stemming from illegal seed sales in 2015 could increase, pending the outcome of unresolved cases.
“2015 seemed to be a bit of an anomaly,” Hyra said.
“There were some comments made early in the year that there were some potential shortages of seed. So it seemed like a lot of people just decided that they were in the seed business.”
According to Hyra, concerns over potential certified seed shortages — especially for crops such as malting barley and durum — may have contributed to illegal sales activity.
As concerns grew about potential seed shortages, some commercial grain growers saw an opportunity to earn price premiums on common harvested seed that offered good quality and good germination.
“There was some misinformation that malting barley was going to be short and durum was short so it seemed like anybody that had (common seed) that would germinate was suddenly advertising,” Hyra said.
Last week, SeCan published a list of the 20 settlements that were reached in 2015.
Of the 20 settlements on the list, 16 involved farmers from Saskatchewan, two were from Manitoba and two were from Alberta.
“There’s been a higher percentage of farm-saved seed used in Saskatchewan for a long-time,” said Hyra.
“Generally speaking, Manitoba uses a lot more certified seed, followed by Alberta and then Saskatchewan so I’m not sure if it’s a function of that or what it is.”
All of the SeCan seed products involved in the settlements were seed varieties that were protected under plant breeders rights (PBR) legislation.
Hyra said on-line advertising is becoming more common method of selling so-called “brown-bag” seed.
He said early indications this year suggest a lighter case load.
“So far this year, it seems to be a bit better,” he said.
Financial penalties against farmers can range from a few thousand dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Last month, SeCan reached a settlement in its largest case to date — a $150,000 settlement against a pedigreed seed grower and long-time SeCan member from the Moose, Jaw, Sask., area.
Hyra said SeCan has increased its educational efforts aimed at improving grower awareness about the implications of illegal seed sales.
Part of that process is to let the industry know that seed companies take enforcement seriously.
The locations and seed varieties involved in SeCan settlements in 2015 includes:
• Alberta – Grande Prairie (AC Stettler) and Seven Persons (AC Strongfield);
• Manitoba – Portage la Prairie (CDC Big Brown) and Teulon (AC Carberry), and;
• Saskatchewan – Crane Valley (AC Strongfield), Domremy (AC Carberry), Ituna (AC Unity VB), Lacadena (AC Strongfield), Lampman (Superb), Mankota (AC Strongfield), Moose Jaw (CDC Bethune and AC Strongfield), Parry (AC Lillian), Pense (AC Metcalfe and CDC Bethune), RM of Scott (CDC Bethune), Rouleau (AC Strongfield), Sedley (AC Metcalfe), Shellbrook (AC Metcalfe), Weyburn (AC Strongfield), Yorkton (AC Unity VB) and Young (CDC Copeland).
FIVE FACTS ABOUT PLANT BREEDERS RIGHTS
1) Most new seed varieties have some form of protection. Don’t assume a variety is not protected
2) If a variety is protected under Plant Breeders Rights (PBR), it is illegal to sell common seed, even if you don’t use the variety name.
3) Under PBR, it is OK to keep seed on your farm, as long as the farm-saved rights are not disallowed by another agreement or contract.
4) Under the new PBR ’91 rules, both the buyer and seller can be held responsible for a PBR infringement.
5) Visit PBRfacts.ca for more information.