This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments involving an Indiana farmer who allegedly bought commodity seed from an elevator and used that seed to plant another crop. Monsanto argues this act would infringe on its technology use agreement. To me it sounds like Bowman did this knowingly violating the agreement. Personally, I don’t think he’s going to win this. Lower courts have already found in favor of Monsanto.
I also have some agronomic reservations. Bowman has said the seed he bought was to be planted after wheat harvest. I’m also an Indiana farmer who plants soybeans behind wheat in the summer. I call this double cropping. The wheat is harvested in late June or early July, and if conditions seems right we’ll sow soybeans into the wheat stubble.
Bowman says he bought the seed because it was cheap. I buy seed from a seed dealer just like my first crop, and purchase it at a hefty discount because it’s so late in the season.
I’m not sure why purchasing bin run seeds for growing a crop is even a good idea for the following reasons.
-Soybean varieties come in different maturity groups intended for different regions. The seed Bowman bought mostly likely would have been a mix of groups II, III, and possibly IV. Double cropping is risky here compared to a regular spring planting. Why would you plant something so late in the year not knowing what maturity group you are working with? Unless the elevator was somehow segregating seed by maturity groups, but that would be very odd.
-Let’s say that bin run seed was actually kept for the following season. Why would I want to plant a field where the plants will mature at different times intermingled over an entire field? That is a harvest mess waiting to happen.
I don’t know about you readers, but the whole idea of planting commodity soybean seed looks like a bad idea to me. And that’s before I’ve considered infringing on any patents.
What are your thoughts?
Update (2/24/13): I’ve been reading through the oral transcripts and looking around elsewhere. I don’t believe Bowman ever signed an agreement for the bin run seed. To me that potentially leaves a loophole for farmers to purchase bin run seed for planting without infringing on the patent. Bowman’s lawyer even argues the same logic as I have above that maturities as well as other qualities would be mixed, but he adds that this practice would only be viable for the riskier second planting. Doing this in the spring would almost certainly guarantee the farmer a poor crop in fall, so the lawyer argues this wouldn’t really hurt Monsanto sales of good, clean, uniform seed. I think that’s a pretty good point. What I don’t know is if Bowman saved any first or second crop seed for another crop.
Bowman’s lawyer also seems to think a seed company should somehow bear some responsibility for the farmer’s crop performance. I don’t agree with that at all.
SCOTUS Oral Arguments Transcript
Forbes: Supremes Unsympathetic to Farmer’s Deception at Center of Monsanto GMO Soybean SCOTUS Patent Challenge
SCOTUS Blog Argument Preview: Stakes are high in dispute over rights to genetically modify seeds
Cornell University Law School: Vernon Hugh Bowman vs Monsanto Company
Reporting on Monsanto vs Bowman and Tilted Zone