“We Have a Right to Save Seeds. Right?”

So says a video produced by Open Solutions Project.

Flowering purple basil on my patio. I also grew Italian basil and Thai basil. Photo by Anastasia Bodnar.

Flowering purple basil on my patio. I also grew Italian basil and Thai basil. Photo by Anastasia Bodnar.

I can appreciate that people want to be able save seeds. I grow a few herbs on my patio and it would be nice to be able to save the seeds… assuming I had the time and wanted to spend the effort to dry the seeds, etc instead of just buying seedlings that have already established!

I did let my basil plants flower so the bees could enjoy them, and I had big plans to save the seeds but realized I just don’t have the time between my day job and all my Biofortified and other communication activities not to mention spending time with hubby, cleaning the house, etc!

Still, I know some people save seeds and even do some breeding as a hobby. This could be fun for those who have gardens in their yards or even for small farmers. Again, this assumes that the efforts in drying the seeds is worth the time and effort when one can buy premium seeds for relatively low price. It’s pretty unrealistic for row crop farmers to save seed, at least if they want to have good genetics, but that’s another post.

If I had the time and space, I’d love to be able to do some breeding projects, maybe I could make my own variety of purple Thai basil or something. Thai basil has a lovely anise type flavor and has purple stems but the leaves stay green. Purple basil has a slightly spicy but mild flavor. I bet they could be combined with a bit of effort, and I think purple basil would be beautiful in pho!

Basil breeding would be cool just as a hobby, and if I was in the business of selling basil, it could potentially be a way to create a niche market for myself. But hey, if I did then go and spend years making careful crosses, then sold my lovely purple Thai basil plants to people, then anyone who wanted more of the basil that I spent years developing could just plant the seeds from them. And there’d be nothing to stop them from selling the plants from those seeds. Unless there was a way for me to protect my invention, just like wheat breeders do.

If I was just doing this as a hobby or if I wanted to share my purple Thai basil with the world for free, that’d be great. Yay for sharing seeds! But what if I needed to make money from the basil? What if this was my full time job and I made money because my basil was special and if people just started growing it and giving it away or selling it, this would cut into my market and all of my efforts breeding a special variety would in the end have all been just a waste of time because now I can’t make a living off it. Boo for sharing seeds!

Some people want to breed new varieties just for fun, or they may have other reasons to not claim intellectual property for the varieties they develop. And that is wonderful, just as we bloggers really, really appreciate people who take beautiful photos and share them on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. But some people want to make a living from their work, whether that is plant breeding, photography, or other art or inventing types of activities. Sometimes I do get frustrated when I find the perfect photo to illustrate a blog post but I really don’t want to pay a license fee just as sometimes people find the perfect plant variety that they’d like to save seeds from but they don’t want to pay the license fee. But that doesn’t mean that the photographer or the breeder doesn’t have the right to charge for their work.

Happily, there is plenty of room for both non-profit and for-profit inventing and creating in this world. There’s room for the big seed companies, there’s room for small companies and even small breeders like the Zaigers and their pluots, there’s room for non-profits and academics who do breeding, and for farmers and hobbyists who want to save seeds. The only caveat is that you can only save seeds from someone who has allowed it – just as a Creative Commons license allows free use of a creative work but it’s not cool if you use someone’s work without permission.


Now I just know someone is going to come by and say “but Monsanto controls all seeds!” so to help nip that in the bud (don’t you love plant-based idioms?) here is some interesting financial info about Monsanto that I recently researched…

When we look at the revenues of various food and agriculture companies in the US, it’s actually kinda shocking how tiny Monsanto is, given their big bad reputation. They only bring in $11.82 billion per year – compare that to Sara Lee’s $12.10 billion per year! John Deere rakes in $32.01 billion, talk about control of the market! And none of these compare to the real heavy hitter of BASF (which makes a variety of chemicals and recently got into biotech) at $104.04 billion. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the top 1 and 2 revenues: Exxon Mobil at $452.93 billion and Wal-Mart at $446.95 billion (not shown here because they’d literally be off the chart).

Chart by Anastasia Bodnar. Click for larger image.

Chart by Anastasia Bodnar. Click for larger image.

The companies shift around a bit if we look at profits rather than revenues. Monsanto is still comparable to Sara Lee, with $1.61 and $1.29 billion respectively. Archer Daniels moves down in the rankings because a lot of their money is tied up in supply chains. And Coca Cola overtakes Pepsi.

2012 Profits

Chart by Anastasia Bodnar. Click for larger image. (Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF are not shown here because I didn’t want to force an inexact comparison as they are not listed in the Fortune 500).

The data above is for all revenues, though, not just agriculture based. So let’s zoom in on the “big six” companies that produce seeds and agricultural chemicals. Monsanto is just 19.5% of agriculture revenues, and that doesn’t even include hundreds of smaller companies so Monsanto’s market share is even smaller. One really interesting thing about this pie chart is the dominance of non-US based companies. Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF are all European companies. If we look at US companies vs European we get $32.05 vs $28.63 billion. Want to buy American? Support Monsanto, as well as DuPont (Pioneer) and Dow. There’s always surprises when you actually look at the data!

2012 Agricultural Revenues

Chart by Anastasia Bodnar. Click for larger image.

EDIT: I learned at the Feeding the Planet Summit that Land O’ Lakes, in addition to being a great butter producer, also owns Purina, and has a very successful agricultural research and development side called WinField. They sell seeds as well as other inputs, and at this time all of their seed is non-GMO. According to their annual report, they’ve been pretty aggressively buying up smaller businesses, including seed companies, to grow the company. Their 2012 sales for seeds and agricultural chemicals was $4.73 million. They aren’t as big as the “big six” but they certainly shouldn’t be ignored!


EDIT: Thanks to Justin Hand for tracking down Which company is ‘top seed’? by Jim J. Jubak on MSN Money from Jul 26, 2013. In this article, Jim presents the percent of sales that consist of seeds only for Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont (unfortunately he does not share his source data). I multiplied those percentages by 2012 revenues to get the following table, showing that of these three companies, Monsanto does sell more seed than the other two. Jim also states that “In 2010, by Monsanto’s figures, the company had 36% of the branded corn seed market, 29% of the branded soybean market and 41% of the cottonseed market.”

Company 2012 Revenues Seed  Seed Revenues Crop Protection Crop Protection Revenues
Monsanto  $    11.80 73%  $      8.61 27%  $       3.19
Syngenta  $    14.20 25%  $      3.55 75%  $     10.65
DuPont  $    38.70 15%  $      5.73 15%  $       5.81

Jim continues: “But if you count not just the seed the company sells under its own brands, but the seed sold by competitors under Monsanto license, the figures, according to a DuPont law suit in 2010, come to 98% of soybean seed and 79% of corn seed.” However, that license only applies to one gene in the seed. The background genetics,which makes up 99+% of the genetic diversity of the crop is still owned by the company selling the seed. Some compare Monsanto’s trait licenses to computer manufacturers licensing Windows – but that’s a poor comparison since one or a few genes are not equivalent to an operating system. The background genetics is the operating system and the licensed trait is like a bit of code, or maybe a single small program – Paint and Notepad are useful programs after all but they are small.

I still contend that crop protection sales (fertilizer, pesticides, etc) are a very important part of farming so it seems a bit strange to focus so much on seed. If Monsanto disappeared tomorrow, we’d lose a large chunk of the seed market, but in the next few years, the other seed companies could simply grow more seed to sell from their existing seed programs. However, if Syngenta disappeared tomorrow, it would be very difficult for other companies to start making all the niche crop protection products that farmers (for better or for worse) have come to depend on. I’m not an economist, but this is what I see.


Feel free to download the charts and source data yourself and whip up your own graphs – let us know if you find anything interesting!

Sources: Revenues and Profits data from CNN Money and 2012 annual reports for Bayer, BASF, Dow, Dupont, Land O’ LakesMonsanto, and Syngenta.

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Anastasia is a Board Member of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes! Learn more about Anastasia at about.me. Disclaimer: Anastasia's words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s). She is not paid to blog or conduct any social media activities. Any mention of a specific company or product does not indicate endorsement of that company or product.


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43 comments to “We Have a Right to Save Seeds. Right?”

  • Drake

    Market capital would have been a (more) appropriate indicator for speaking to the issue of Monsanto’s market power. Also, if you want to address the issue of power in the seed market, there are direct indicators of market consolidation. Using either market capital or percentage seed control you would find a very different story than you present here.

    • Keith Hayes

      What do your numbers look like, Drake?

      Market cap pretty much factors in earnings and assets to come up with a share price. But I think looking at revenue and earnings like Anastasia did gives a decent picture as to who the big players are.

      Of course looking at seed sales only would bias the analysis towards only companies that produce seed instead of companies that have control of our food supply in general. But who else would normally have control over seed besides the company that sells them? Farmers seem to be outsourcing seed production for a while now.

      • Drake

        For example: Monsanto’s market cap is $57.2 billion; BASF is $90 billion (big, but not 10x bigger as painted above); Archer Daniels market cap is $39 billion; Sara Lee $11 billion; Dow is $50 billion. I suggest this because it is a better indicator of market “power”; revenues and profits are more subject to internal fudging and fluctuate as companies make major acquisitions, depreciate assets, and invest in R&D.

        The blog post itself is about seed savings, so I think the seed data is applicable. My point being that Anastasia paints this picture of “little ol’ Monsanto barely has a dog in the fight”, when in fact it has 98 percent of the U.S. soybean market, 79 percent of the corn market and 60 percent of the corn and soy germplasm licensed in the United States.

        • Keith Hayes

          I think the % Market share of the seed market would be a better way to make the argument. Comparing Monsanto market cap to DOW and BASF is comparing apples to oranges since both DOW and BASF are chemical companies and agrochemicals are only one small segment of what they do.

          So Monsanto may have huge market share of the seed market and the available germplasm, but does this mean they control our food supply? There are so many corporations between Monsanto and the end user. There are the grain elevators, the food manufacturers, the wholesale distributers, the grocers, the restaurants, etc — all owned by corporations that seem to be much bigger than Monsanto which I think was the point of this article. Why are folks piling on Monsanto and not these other corporations for “controlling our food”?

          • I agree with Drake that % market share of the seed market is an interesting measure. I’d love to see that data as well as the source material, if you have a chance!

            I also agree with Keith that “The Food Supply” that Monsanto supposedly controls is so much more than just seed. IMHO it makes sense to look at things in context, which is why I pulled out the food and ag companies in the charts above.

        • You build a better mousetrap and the world beats a path to your door. That’s why Monsanto is doing so well. Nothing nefarious about that. The seeds that came before are no worse now than than they were, just that the new seeds are so much better. When the patents run out, the market share will swing again. For a time, Edison controlled the largest share of the lightbulb market.

  • Ewan R

    You could, infact, look at % share of the various seed markets – Ag revenue factors in pesticide sales (BASF isn’t a big player in current GMOs, although they are a big player in researching the next generation, and, as far as I know they aren’t really a player in seed whatsoever at the moment (although possibly rice, I know they like them some rice))

    http://www.agweb.com/article/behind_the_seed_scene/

    Seems to lay out actual market share of corn and soybean pretty well – in soybean local/regional companies controlled 20% of the market in 2011, compared to a little over 10% in corn, Monsanto and DuPont fight it out for top spot in both crops, with DuPont dominating in both crops in 2011 (marginally for corn, quite significantly for soy)

  • Interesting post. I do not know much about how seeds are protected, but wonder if they could be protected for only a specific amount of time, to allow the developer to recoup their investment and make some money. After this set time the varieties would then lose their protection and become public, similar to drugs and pesticides. Even Monsanto eventually had to give up exclusive rights to glyphosate and now they compete against many generic “Roundup” products.

    • Yep – that’s how patents work. They are only good for a certain number of years and then they become public domain. The first generation of roundup-ready soybeans will be off-patent next year. Proprietary breeding germplasm goes public all the time.

      • I was discussing this with someone on the Golden Rice issue–some of those patents must be aging-out at this point too I’d expect.

        Does anyone know what patents are at issue with GR? Has someone seen a list?

      • How about hybrids? I know in corn there is hybrid vigor, but is this why tomatoes are hybridized, or is it to protect from people saving seed?

        • Mike Higby

          Although I’ve helped grow tomatoes on other farms, I’ve only grown them by myself for about 20 years and for farmer’s markets for a little over 10 years. From what I know, tomatoes are hybridized for several reasons including disease resistance, earliness, and uniformity of fruit size and shape. Not all tomatoes are hybridized and not even all commercial cultivars are hybridized. There is a ketchup tomato called Heinz that is open pollinated. Also, there are older cultivars, now known as heirlooms because they often were particular to a specific local or even farm family, that are all open pollinated. I myself don’t grow the modern hybrids any more because they don’t have the appearance or flavor that I’m looking for. I grow only one cultivar now and it’s an heirloom that came from Hungary/Romania called an Oxheart. It has very large meaty fruits that come to a blunt tip resembling an animal heart and it has a very peculiar deep pink color. The unique shape,size,texture,and flavor is what I like personally and it is also what attracts costumers and sells. There are other oxheart cultivars in Russia and also Italy. I save my own seed back from these tomatoes and have been for about 5 years. I select and mark the most robust plants and out of those, I save the seeds from the ones that produce the best fruit.

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    Anastasia,

    This is a nice explanation as far as it goes, but what I so often encounter is the conflation of hybrid and licensed seeds: it has been standard practice for nearly a hundred years to purchase and plant fresh hybrid seeds for many crops, and _certain people_ state that that is because Big Bad Monsanto has somehow made it illegal to save and plant seeds. _I_ had a basic but adequate explanation of hybridity, heterosis and uniformity in (public) grade-school, but maybe some people didn’t, or need a refresher. It has been discussed to death here before, but it has been a while and it would be nice to point to a well-thought-out account of WHY new seeds are so often the rational choice of a farmer (including the issue of disease- and contamination-control and “certification”).
    Are you up for that?

  • Although not the only issue in seed saving, your pie charts have inspired me to look at something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. I’ve been trying to figure out how to display the results from that paper that had the gene patents, and mocked up the representation of plant gene patents according to their data.

    I put the first draft of it over here, but would like someone to check my math and assumptions: http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/genetic-engineering-group3/politics-forum1/patents-thread396/

    Hint: #1 is not who you probably think it is….

    • Rita

      Hi Mary – Does that study just cover plant patents at the molecular level (the intro says “patents claiming nucleic acids”), or does it also include plant patents that are given for general characteristics. There have been several reports of patents for novelty that isn’t described in the patents at the molecular level – Syngenta for example patenting a flavor in melon, and Dutch lettuce firms have patents on colors and leaf expression. Curious if these groups were included in study.

      Would look myself but behind pay wall so can’t look myself without shelling out $32…but I guess even social scientists need to recoup their costs nowadays.

      • This paper is only about patents for which there is some nucleic acid sequence that was present in the patent application. So it is limited to patents with some sort of gene sequence in the claim. It’s also just the US.

        I’d send you a copy but I only have the paper version from the free Nature Biotech subscription I somehow got.

        That melon patent is interesting, actually. In fact, I’ve used it as an example of a non-GMO that is patented. Some people are convinced you can only patent GMOs, and even the EU patent office says that is not the case.

        The “melon patent” case – FAQ

        In the area of plants, most patent applications relate to genetically engineered (GM) plants. However, there is no requirement under patent law for a plant to be modified by genetic engineering techniques for it to be patentable.

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    Anastasia,

    As a side-note, You should not be daunted with breeding, saving, processing, and using your own seeds. I have usually had access to resources as microscopes, tools and greenhouse space, and even if I have been explicit that I am merely “getting practice,” it has always been accepted as a reasonable perk and professional development. Of course, if I do succeed in developing a “smap” version of “blauwschokker” I might have to turn-over the rights, but whatever….

    http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds/Pea-Blauwschokker.html#.UmcHy77n9ZQ

  • Ute Lehmann

    Small seedfarmers or hobby seeds farmers should be allowed to share seeds. Growing new varieties is very difficult. I tried that with marygolds–two very hard winters and all was gone. In the third year the very last seeds did not germinate. My experiments with tomatoes failed with very very small tomatoes. I tried to get more soft ribort plantein by selecting the most soft ones to create a new sort of green foods–the slugs liked it faster than I.

  • Mlema

    I think in the US where most farming (acreage-wise) is big business, and as such is strongly influenced and supported by the Farm bill, it’s survival of the fittest as far as companies like Monsanto go – which are indirectly supported by tax money through the farmers they sell to. Small farms are free to operate without the restrictions of seed leases as long as they choose to go without that technology. I would guess in poorer countries it would make sense to forgo Monsanto seeds. That would be in order to retain crop diversity, remain free of the financial indebtedness, and have the right to use seed as they see fit for their agricultural purposes.

  • Hi Mlema, I’m a bit confused by your comment here. I’d like to understand what you are saying though, so I’ll attempt to respond sentence by sentence but please let me know if I am interpreting your words incorrectly!

    “I think in the US where most farming (acreage-wise) is big business, and as such is strongly influenced and supported by the Farm bill, it’s survival of the fittest as far as companies like Monsanto go – which are indirectly supported by tax money through the farmers they sell to.”

    Capitalism is survival of the fittest – those companies that meet demand are successful. The subsidy parts of the Farm Bill, like all other subsidies, are actually going outside of capitalism because they provide additional incentives to produce certain things at certain quantities that the market might not support. All of the agricultural companies, including not just seed but also fertilizers and pesticides, benefit from the Farm Bill because the subsidies promote high production and these products support high production. But the market itself also rewards those that produce efficiently, so even without the subsidies in the Farm Bill, many farmers would still choose to use modern farming technologies. It’s a business decision that each farmer must make.

    “Small farms are free to operate without the restrictions of seed leases as long as they choose to go without that technology.”

    Large farms are also free to use whatever seeds they want, and many small farmers choose traited or hybrid seed. Non-traited or non-hybrid seed might yield less, but that’s a business decision that every farmer (small or large) must make for themselves.

    “I would guess in poorer countries it would make sense to forgo Monsanto seeds.”

    In poor countries it actually makes even more sense to have high yielding seeds that are resistant to diseases and pests, whether that is purchased from a large company such as Monsanto, purchased from a smaller company, or provided by a non-profit organization.

    “That would be in order to retain crop diversity, remain free of the financial indebtedness, and have the right to use seed as they see fit for their agricultural purposes.”

    Crop diversity, lack of debt, and using seeds as needed are things all farmers want, wherever they are and no matter how much they make. Diversity is something even big row crop farmers practice, as farmers usually plant many different varieties of seed (to avoid losing it all in case the variety they plant happens to be susceptible to a disease, for example). Of course everyone wants to avoid debt, but in business sometimes one must borrow to have capital to grow the business. In the case of farmers they literally have to buy things to grow the next year’s product (unless they have all the equipment they need, save seeds, and don’t use any inputs – but again that is a business decision). As for using seed for whatever they want (saving or breeding), farmers are welcome to do that as long as they start with seed that isn’t protected by patents or other forms of intellectual property protection.

  • Mlema

    Sorry Anastasia, I certainly didn’t write that comment very well. Our farm bill supports chemical/industrial farming over organic or small farms. This is in large part due to the lobbying power of the chemical and biotech industries. I don’t have any immediate statistics for you, but I will try to find the piece i saw on this and link to it here later. It’s become very difficult for large-scale industrial farmers to change the way they farm because of the way the subsidies are structured.

    It’s true that high-yield, pest-resistant seeds would be desirable in any country, rich or poor. But with transgenic seeds, poor farmers aren’t able to manage the contracts, cost of pesticides, etc. – and aren’t necessarily able to support large, industrial farms. They don’t have this infrastructure or financial support. I’m talking about farmers who are better off sharing farmland and labor within their communities to grow a wide variety of crops, instead of turning all their land over to cash crop use, and then having no food to eat when the market drops. It’s not Monsanto’s fault directly I suppose, but they’ve been guilty of false advertising in countries where farmers don’t even have some of the most basic advantages in agroscience, and the governments of those countries encouraged the move to cash crops in order to improve their economies. A recipe for disaster. I don’t know if this makes better sense, but I think it’s a mistake for such regions to try to incorporate transgenic monocropping. They do better with real educational help – all the brainpower that farmers and scientists have put into improving soil, plant, pest management. I don’t know if maybe you’re saying you see transgenic, patented, leased seeds as part of that, but I don’t see that it’s worked out that way (benefiting poorer farmers in other countries)
    anyway – thank you for taking the time to try to understand what I’m saying.

    • Charles M. Rader

      [pest-resistant seeds would be desirable in any country, rich or poor. But with transgenic seeds, poor farmers aren’t able to manage the contracts, cost of pesticides, etc.]

      mlema, I can’t understand this statement. Pest-resistant seeds require less use of pesticides, not more. Furthermore, when pesticides are used it is much harder for poor farmers in poor countries,than for a large industrial farm, to use them safely. The same is true for infrastructure. This simple fact is not different for transgenic seeds.

      It’s not as if this is all speculative. India has been growing GMO cotton for about ten years. China for even longer.

      • Mlema

        what I’m trying to say is: agricultural science benefits developing countries more than corporation-leased transgenic seeds. There are no transgenic seeds that offer anything better than non-transgenic seeds in the way of yield. And non-transgenic seeds don’t carry the financial burden of leases or increasing pesticide bills.

    • Ewan R

      It’s true that high-yield, pest-resistant seeds would be desirable in any country, rich or poor. But with transgenic seeds, poor farmers aren’t able to manage the contracts, cost of pesticides, etc. – and aren’t necessarily able to support large, industrial farms. They don’t have this infrastructure or financial support. I’m talking about farmers who are better off sharing farmland and labor within their communities to grow a wide variety of crops, instead of turning all their land over to cash crop use, and then having no food to eat when the market drops.

      This would certainly explain why small farmers benefit so hugely in India from Bt cotton… becayuse they can’t manage the contracts, the cost of pesticides or… oh hang on wait, no, they’re perfectly capable of using the seeds and increasing production because of it… but hey, why let reality get in the way of a good “Poor farmers are idiots” meme.

      • Mlema

        I’m trying to point out that the farmers and the agro-scientists who work with those farmers, know better how to use technology to improve their own agriculture than the brainiacs in some Monsanto lab. And there’s no benefit from entering into a contract with a multi-national corp.

        And you need to check up on your “facts” regarding bt cotton in india. Cotton yields were on the rise when bt cotton was introduced. Two years after the introduction of bt cotton, yields began to fall. Resistant pests showed up quickly in India. There are many factors which influence yield – but if you want to try to tie increased yield to bt cotton, you’ll not find the data to support that. (unless of course it’s Monsanto “data”)

        Since Monsanto owns about 90% of the cotton and soy in the US, and since it’s cotton and soy which are the largest recipients of tax monies through the US farm bill, Monsanto is on corporate welfare.

        http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/images/fa/subsidies-2010.jpg

        • Ewan R

          I’m trying to point out that the farmers and the agro-scientists who work with those farmers, know better how to use technology to improve their own agriculture than the brainiacs in some Monsanto lab.

          I work for Monsanto. Nobody at work in the lab is telling farmers how to operate. Monsanto employs agronomists who work with farmers to figure out what is going to work best for them.

          It rather tires me to see the tired old trope of “how can someone in a lab know x” when it categorically isn’t the case that this is what is going on.

          Yes, Monsanto employs scientists – molecular biologists to do molecular biology, enzymologists to do enzymology, agronomists to do agronomy, crop physiologists to do crop physiology, you see how this works? You hire people who know a particular field to work in that area, so no, there are no scientists working in the lab telling farmers what will probably work best for them, that gets left to the experts (likewise there are no agronomists doing high throughput genotyping of Maize lines, and no toxicologists transforming soy cells for yield testing).

          And you need to check up on your “facts” regarding bt cotton in india.

          I am tremendously familiar with Bt cotton in India. The data overwhelmingly supports Bt cotton increasing farmer incomes (in part due to yield increases (which Bt cotton does supply, but not to the extent that a switch to high yielding hybrids does (something enabled by the use of Bt…) but predominantly down to reduced pesticide use (even after rise of secondary pests)) – I find the data to support both, in the peer reviewed literature.

          http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?country=in&commodity=cotton&graph=yield

          http://cotcorp.gov.in/statistics.aspx
          (similar numbers, from Indian govt)

          rather shows you to be simply pulling things out of your behind. Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002. Accroding to the above graph cotton yields had been utterly flat for the prior decade. Yields then spike enormously in 2003 and 2004, and flatten off two years following the introduction in 2005 (they don’t fall, they plataeu), there are then 2 more years of increase, followed by a 5 – 6 year plateua all the way through to 2013. The 2013 data, while marginally lower than 2007 (highest year on the graph) is still close to double the average pre 2002 value.

          When requesting people check their facts it is generally a good idea to

          a) Have the first idea what the facts actually are.

          b) Only ask people who are actually wrong to go check their facts.

          • Mlema

            Ewan, where I come from, brainiac is a compliment. All I’m saying is that Monsanto isn’t interested in developing any solutions that don’t advance their patented tools. That’s just the way it is. No shame in it, but not deniable.

            And there’s no reason to be insulting.
            When it comes to the facts about Monsanto, it’s often difficult to tease out the truth. The fact is, cotton yields were increasing in India before BT was introduced. A couple years after, yields began to drop. AT the point that bt cotton topped 90% of plantings, yields had dropped 13.2%.
            http://fieldquestions.com/2012/02/12/bt-cotton-remarkable-success-and-four-ugly-facts/

            and here’s an article that goes into more depth on the whole phenomenon of bt cotton in India
            http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/Constructing_Facts.pdf

            When you talk about Monsanto and the farmer, you have to keep in mind that Monsanto will do whatever it takes to get its seeds planted and its pesticides sold. I’m sure you didn’t miss the wikileaks news a couple of years ago – which revealed that Monsanto has somehow usurped the US embassies to do it’s strong-armed politics and lobbying.

            ‘U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal the Bush administration drew up ways to retaliate against Europe for refusing to use genetically modified seeds. In 2007, then-US ambassador to France Craig Stapleton was concerned about France’s decision to ban cultivation of genetically modified corn produced by biotech giant Monsanto. He also warned that a new French environmental review standard could spread anti-biotech policy across Europe.

            In the leaked cable, Stapleton writes, quote, “Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [European] Commission…Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voice.”

            Ambassador Stapleton goes on to write, quote, “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory,”

            Um, working with the European farmers?

            Or perhaps they were helping the farmers in Indonesia as they continued lobbying while Monsanto paid $1.5 million for bribing an official who had a role in regulating GMOs. Or perhaps in South Africa where the embassy notified the industry when regulatory positions opened – suggesting that they advance their own applicants.

            Monsanto has a vested interest in obscuring the facts. And, in case you didn’t know, the US State Department is not supposed to be an international political lobby for Monsanto, it’s a taxpayer-funded diplomatic office.

            • Ewan, where I come from, brainiac is a compliment.

              I’m not concerned about being called a brainiac, neither, I would assume, are any of my colleagues. I’m pointing out that it is utterly inaccurate that people in the lab are telling farmers what to do. People with field knowledge will advise farmers.

              And there’s no reason to be insulting.

              It gets my back up when people blatantly invent their own reality (or propagate someone elses invented reality). Charcter flaw of mine. (although in this instance I don’t see where I was insulting per-se… certainly nothign exceeding the rather patronising and inappropriate “check your facts” schtick)

              Monsanto isn’t interested in developing any solutions that don’t advance their patented tools.

              That certainly explains WEMA, and other things that don’t advance a damned thing… Also, on a commercial front, of utmost importance is farmer trust. Helping farmers operate as well as they can increases trust, which increases sales. So even in cases where it is helping profit it can (and often is) helping farmers too (we’ll flat out tell a farmer to plant a not quite top of the line, not fully traited line in a field which is sub-optimal, because it is best for the farmer – and next year, when said farmer sees we gave the best advice for them, rather than tried to fleece them… they’ll at least consider buying our seed again)

              When you talk about Monsanto and the farmer, you have to keep in mind that Monsanto will do whatever it takes to get its seeds planted and its pesticides sold.

              Including, indeed, giving farmers good advice so they think of us as well as they think of Pioneer (something that historically has been the achilles heel of Monsanto seed lines – loyalty to Pioneer… because, well, they have historically treated farmers well, given them good advice, and haven’t come off as arrogant or out only for themselves)

              I’m sure you didn’t miss the wikileaks news a couple of years ago

              I also haven’t missed how utterly overblown the entire thing has become amongst certain circles – governments globally apply pressure to have their own industries have access to markets all the time, that agribusiness is included alongsides electronics, manufacturing, automotive, oil & gas etc should hardly be a surprise unless you’ve got your head buried in the sand)

              Or perhaps they were helping the farmers in Indonesia as they continued lobbying while Monsanto paid $1.5 million for bribing an official who had a role in regulating GMOs.

              You’re aware, of course (no), that it was Monsanto that reported the bribery, took action on the individual who was making bribes etc? How machiavellian of them.

              Um, working with the European farmers?

              What the US government says, and how it terms things, is hardly the fault of Monsanto. Given that Monsanto does have a seed business in Europe it would, infact, be silly of them to make things hard for farmers there (because one thing that loses customers is making their lives hard, and Syngenta/Pioneer and many other seed manufacturers would be more than happy to pick up market share)

              I assume as you’ve completely ignored the main thrust of my prior post (that you were either misled or flat out wrong about Indian cotton) that you cede the point.

              • Mlema

                Ewan, Non-Monsanto employee citizens were outraged at the wikileaks revelation that Monsanto’s State Dept. connections were “strong-arming” European nations to get their products sold there. As well as pushing their marketing and de-regulation agenda around the world. The percentage of Monsanto-related cables was larger than any other topic.

                I did indeed reply re: bt cotton in India. I provided a readable piece by a gentleman with “boots on the ground”, and that piece included data from the International Cotton Advisory Board. Bt isn’t responsible for the growth in cotton yields starting in 2002, and may be responsible for yields dropping off a few years after introduced.

                Now on my part, I’m willing to admit there are other factors to be considered. However, no matter how you slice it, bt cotton in India is in no way the success that Monsanto would have us believe. You can’t just lump all cotton together, watch the yields rise, and then say it’s because of bt. You have to sort out how much was planted and when – and compare THAT to the yields.

                • You can’t just lump all cotton together, watch the yields rise, and then say it’s because of bt. You have to sort out how much was planted and when – and compare THAT to the yields.

                  This has been done. On top of the introduction of hybrids Bt offers benefit in yield, pesticide use, and profitability. So one utterly can tie Bt cotton to yield increases. Not to all of the yield increases, but as I haven’t actually even remotely attempted to do that I do rather wonder why the focus on such an outlandish claim?

                  http://government.arts.cornell.edu/assets/faculty/docs/herring/5-7-2013_Discussion_Ronald_J_Herring.pdf

                  Discusses your given links – yields vary year on year, one may have noticed that the past few years have been historically bonkers in terms of the weather – it is no great surprise that yield would fluctuate somewhat – the peer reviewed literature is clear however, in any given year when comparing Bt to non-Bt you’ll most often see Bt outperform, so even if in 2014 cotton yields were to drop to 60% their current in India I would expect to see side by side Bt vs non Bt that within the 2014 data Bt cotton would perform better (either through yield or through reduced pesticide use, but ultimately in terms of farm income) – this obviously needn’t always be the case, as resistance arises, and if it spreads and no strategies are brought to bear to avoid it… then sure, there is a point at which Bt would be a fruitless endeabour… but we’re not there yet, not even close.

                  • Mlema

                    Ewan, as I said: on my part, I’m willing to admit there are other factors to be considered, and I think that’s what you’re saying too. However, the discussion from Herring provides no substantial rebuttal to the data from the International Cotton Advisory Board.

                    Herring is obliged to try to discredit Stone’s report. I believe he’s served as an advisor to the industry-linked Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education.

                    People can interpret the data for themselves.

                    Everybody comes at this from a different angle, and you and I can argue til the end of time – we won’t change anyone’s mind. But at least we’ve put up the links to be examined. I’ll let you have the last word if you wish.

                    • I’ll let you have the last word if you wish.

                      An offer I shall not refuse.

                      People can interpret the data for themselves

                      Therein lies the problem, not everyone can. They may not have the time, the inclination, or the capacity (although the latter here is probably a rather weak statement) to properly assess the data, particularly given the damn nonsense out there presented as data.

                      we won’t change anyone’s mind

                      You might not. I might. I know I have in the past (in a positive (from my perspective) direction – possibly stylistically some in the wrong direction too… (if PR people are to be believed) and therefore absolutely believe that I will again in the future. Perhaps not your mind (tis a rather sad admission to tell someone they are not going to change your mind, but there you have it – give me strong, supported evidence and my mind will be changed in any given area, I might come off like I think I know everything, but am well aware that I do not – much of what I’ve believed in the past 3 and a bit decades has been either utterly wrong, a little bit wrong, or not quite correct – I rather enjoy (2 days later once the embarassment wears off) correcting these things though)

                      (Nobody, however, will ever convince me to use fewer parenthesese, mainly because I do rather enjoy the word.)

                      and thus… the final word (hah!)

                      Parenthesese.

  • Mlema

    ok, this isn’t what i was referring to, but I’ll still try to find that. i know you don’t like Union of Concerned Scientists, but this page talks a little about the issue of how the Farm Bill affects what’s grown and how it’s grown. The graph shows how corn and soy (which is 90% Monsanto) are funded as compared to other foods. This is why i say that indirectly, Monsanto is receiving taxpayer money.

    Toward Healthy Food and Farms
    How Science-Based Policies Can Transform Agriculture
    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/strengthen-healthy-farm-policy/healthy-food-and-farms-policy.html

  • Brian

    I think many people are confusing seed saving with intellectual property piracy.

    • OrchidGrowinMan

      And CHOOSING not to save and replant is confused with being PROHIBITED from saving and replanting. See this:
      “Wild Buckwheat” is an annoying weed whose seeds are difficult to separate from wheat. Unless the seed to be planted is specially processed (purified), presumably by a specialist seed processor/supplier, losses can spread and accumulate.
      http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/2013/11/fallopia-convolvulus.php
      There are other weeds like this, and diseases, and other reasons not to save seeds, like heterosis (new F1 or F2 crosses each crop) and uniformity (reproductively isolated seed-production, no reassortment in F2 or F3), and even the insurance conferred by certification.

  • Mlema

    I think the contentious nature of the Monsanto – farmer relationship is more about the contracts the farmers must sign. Between those and the processor contracts, the farmers can get really restricted in how they run their enterprise.

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