FAIR PLAY DEAL AGREED ON OLDER VARIETY ROYALTIES

Farmers who genuinely want to continue sowing farm-saved seed of certain older combinable crop varieties – those which until now have attracted no royalties – may continue to do so without payment.

However, plant breeders and the NFU hope to close a loop-hole whereby growers could evade paying to use a newer variety by falsely declaring it to be one of the older ones.

The new arrangement, part of a fresh three-year Fair Play scheme agreement, covers so-called zero-rated varieties (see table) which were given a seven-year exemption when farm-saved royalties were introduced. That exemption has expired.

From this autumn those varieties will become eligible for farm-saved seed payment, but will attract an instant 100% refund, explained British Society of Plant Breeders chief executive Penny Maplestone.

Although reluctant to estimate the value of royalties lost through misdeclaration Dr Maplestone said it was “real problem”.

Proof that growers are playing fair will come through random BSPB audits.

“We’ll be asking farmers for evidence of what they’ve grown, for example through a seed invoice, seed sample or crop inspection.”

BSPB colleague Nigel Moore pointed out that the Fair Play system had been simplified with a shorter farm-saved seed declaration form that could be submitted in five ways.

“Previously there was a lot of paperwork involved.” The move, which means BSPB now also calculates and invoices all payments, was welcomed by many farmers, he added.

However breeders are clearly prepared to get tough on chasing non-payers if necessary.

By following a new process developed with its lawyers, which could ultimately lead to prosecutions, 18 “persistent non-respondents” have complied with their legal requirement to declare farm-saved use, according to Mr Moore.

“Six of them owed thousands of pounds. We don’t want to prosecute if we can avoid it.”

Highlighting the need for continued investment in plant breeding to help farmers stay competitive and meet new market needs, BSPB chairman Thomas Jolliffe stressed that 18 out of the 17,000 on its database was “not very many”.

“But if they had not complied and paid us they would have gone to court.”

[table]
Zero-rated varieties
Winter wheat: Fresco, Haven, Hereward, Riband, Soissons
Winter barley: Halcyon, Intro, Manitou, Pastoral
Spring barley: Chariot, Dandy, Hart, Tyne
Peas: Princess
Beans: Victor