Doing what daddy always did can get you in serious legal trouble these days.

For generations, Texas wheat farmers have routinely “caught seed” from the current crop to save and plant next year. This practice remains completely legal; however, the saved seed from a protected variety cannot be sold as planting seed without the permission of the owner, said Gaylon Morgan, Texas Cooperative Extension small grains specialist at College Station.

The Plant Variety Protection Act in small grains has been in place since 1970, Morgan said, but it has gained much attention the past several years. Not only have recent advances in DNA testing made it easier to catch offenders, but also the higher percentage of protected varieties planted and stricter regulations added in 1994 have changed things for farmers.

“Numerous individuals in Texas, Oklahoma and other states have been prosecuted for not abiding by the PVPA, including sellers, seed conditioners and buyers,” Morgan said.

“A clear understanding of the PVPA, Title V, and utility patents and their implications are essential for everyone involved in buying, conditioning or selling seed.

“There's a lot of confusion about the PVPA and its implications on Texas small grain producers. Consequently, we're hearing of more and more people being slapped with civil actions relating to the PVPA than ever before,” he said. “They either don't realize they are in violation of the act, choose to ignore it, or don't know there is such a law.”

Nearly all wheat varieties released by private companies and universities since 1970 are protected by the protection act, Morgan said.

“From a practical standpoint, most varieties planted today are protected under the 1994 PVPA, meaning the variety owner's permission is required prior to any seed sales,” he said.

“To determine if a variety is protected by the PVPA, farmers can go to the Web site http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/pvplist.pl, or call their local Extension agent who can look up the variety.

“The primary purpose of the PVPA was to encourage further development of new non-hybrid varieties of such crops as wheat, oats and other self-pollinating crops. Allowing plant breeders to decide who can sell their seed gives them the chance to recoup development costs and reinvest in future variety development.”

All varieties protected under the protection act must be clearly marked on the seed tag or bulk label indicating the type of protection the product falls under, Morgan said. The seller is responsible for informing the buyer if a variety is protected.

The owner of the variety may bring civil action against those infringing on his or her right as stated in the 1970, and 1994 Plant Variety Protection Act, Title V, and utility patent, he added.

“The damages awarded by a court must at least compensate the variety developer, but can be triple that amount,” Morgan said. “Violation of any Federal Seed Act provisions is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000.”

Quick facts concerning the protection act can be found on the Web at http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/pvpo/PVPindex.htm.

Remember:

The protection act provides developers of new varieties of plants patent-like rights that protect the reproduction and distribution of their varieties.

Varieties that are protected under the act can be sold as seed stocks only with the permission of the certificate holder and in some cases, only as a class of Certified seed.

Protected varieties must have labels on the seed containers indicating the type of protection.

Farmers may save seed for replanting, but cannot sell the seed to anyone without permission of the owner.

For more information contact Morgan at (979) 845-2425, gmorgan@ag.tamu.edu or an Extension agent.