Dec 12 Major producers of genetically modified
seeds, including Monsanto Co and Bayer AG,
have long barred U.S. farmers from saving seeds after harvest to
replant - a condition that allows the companies to charge every
year for the technology.
Now, a smaller challenger, Stine Seed, wants to disrupt that
Next year, family-owned Stine says it will give about 200
farmers in a pilot program the chance to replant genetically
modified soybean seeds. The program is expanding after launching
this year with about 50 farmers.
Major genetically modified seed companies have largely
stamped out the once-common practice of saving seed in the
United States over the past two decades. They have required
farmers to sign contacts that bar them from replanting the
patented, genetically modified seeds now used to produce most of
the nation's soybeans.
If Stine's program succeeds and expands further, it would
represent the renewal of a technique that major seed developers
view as a threat to the commercial value of their intellectual
Seeds in Stine's program will include those containing a
genetic trait called LibertyLink, which was developed by Bayer
and licensed by Stine, and that's created tension between the
Bayer "does not support saved seed," spokesman Jeff Donald
said. He declined to comment specifically on Stine's program.
Two top Stine executives - Harry and Myron Stine, who are
father and son - gave Reuters conflicting accounts of the
company's talks with Bayer about the pilot program and its plans
to profit from it.
"Bayer despises that we're doing it," Myron Stine, company
president, said in a telephone interview in September. "We are
constantly changing things to fit what Bayer wants," he added in
an October interview.
In a later interview at a Stine Seed's office in Iowa,
however, founder and Chief Executive Harry Stine said that Bayer
merely wanted Stine to ensure that farmers did not replant
Libertylink seeds without paying for the technology. Stine
crafted a system to ensure it can accurately track when farmers
save and replant seeds and ensure they pay Bayer the appropriate
"They just wanted to make sure you weren't having some
farmer just go to a bin (of genetically modified seeds) and
plant whatever he wanted," Harry Stine said about Bayer in
October. "Other than that, they were fine with the program."
Genetically modified seeds are sold by independent
companies, such as Stine, and by major players, including
Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta AG. Stine and other
independent seed sellers often pay to license genetic traits
from the larger companies to put into seed.
Monsanto, the world's largest seed maker, has successfully
sued U.S. farmers who saved genetically modified seed after
pledging in contracts with the company to use it for only one
crop. Other trait developers make U.S. farmers sign similar
In Argentina - where farmers are legally allowed to save
seed - Monsanto has stopped launching new soybean technologies,
following a dispute with exporters and the government over
royalties paid for saved seed.
Monsanto and Syngenta declined to comment on Stine's
TICKED OFF COMPETITORS
Stine plans to limit its seed-saving program to farmers
willing to allow the company the option to buy the new
genetically modified seed grown by farmers during each harvest.
To secure seed supplies, Stine has traditionally hired
farmers to grow the seeds and agreed to buy all the seeds those
farmers produce. In the pilot program, however, Stine will
reserve the right to reject seeds because of low customer demand
or other reasons, eliminating waste and saving Stine money.
As an incentive for farmers in the pilot program, Stine is
offering discounts on the original seed they use - charging them
as little as $26 per acre instead of the going rate of about $40
per acre for seeds containing Bayer's LibertyLink trait.
Myron Stine said Bayer had received calls from Stine
competitors, who also pay to license the Bayer trait,
complaining that Stine was offering farmers a "super lucrative
price" on seeds containing LibertyLink, which protects soybean
crops against a weed killer.
"It just ticks them off," Myron Stine said of Stine's
Asked about Myron's comments, Donald, the Bayer spokesman,
said the company "wouldn't want to discuss our internal
conversations with licensees."
Myron Stine said Stine Seed would initially lose money on
the pilot program, partly because it must pay licensing fees to
Bayer for LibertyLink.
But Stine could turn a profit later, he said, if it starts
licensing new traits from a closely affiliated company, MS
Technologies, possibly for lower prices than Bayer charges.
Seeds containing the new MS Technologies traits are not yet on
Harry Stine serves on the board of directors for MS
Technologies and has a financial interest in the company, said
Joseph Saluri, an MS Technologies director and general counsel
for Stine Seed. He said pricing for the MS Technologies traits
had not been determined.
After Myron Stine spoke to Reuters several times, company
attorney Brenda Stine-Reiher wrote to a reporter in October
saying Myron had provided "misinformation." She singled out his
comments on potentially lower pricing - what she called
"priority pricing" - for Stine Seed on traits from MS
"There is no such pricing in place yet," wrote Stine-Reiher,
who is Myron's sister.
The company then set up an interview with Harry Stine. In
contrast to his son, Harry Stine said he intended to profit
immediately from the pilot program. He said MS Technologies'
fees were not set but would likely be similar to Bayer's.
If Stine eventually turns to MS Technologies for traits,
Bayer will still be linked, at least to some degree, to its
seed-saving program, Harry and Myron Stine said. One new trait
Stine is considering for the program is a joint project of Bayer
and MS Technologies.
Bayer declined to comment on that trait.
MS Technologies co-developed a second soybean trait with Dow
AgroSciences. Stine also wants to offer that trait in program,
Harry and Myron Stine said.
The traits will allow soybeans to resist more herbicides
Dow did not respond to questions about Stine's program but
said in a statement it "will not support 'saved seed.'"
(Reporting by Tom Polansek)