19 April 1996

Merchants angry over farm-saved seed royalties

MECHANISMS for collecting royalty on farm-saved seed are annoying merchants, particularly the prospect of mobile seed processors being paid for the work.

Indeed, current proposals highlight long-standing imperfections in the overall royalties system, says Chris Hoff, of Shropshire-based Ridleys Seeds.

"We have collected certified seed royalties for years and dont get paid anything," says Mr Hoff. Deductions from area aid payments offer a more efficient route for breeders to obtain their reward, he suggests.

Methods for gathering farm-saved payments recently agreed between the NFU and the British Society of Plant Breeders have yet to be finalised. But talks with UKASTA and the National Association of Agricultural Contractors are under way.

"We wont be paying individual mobiles to collect," says a BSPB spokeswoman.

UKASTA spokesman Paul Rook adds: "Most of our members would be happy to collect provided there is a fee for it."

Mr Hoff believes the proposed moves, coupled with EU anomalies, do nothing to improve grower/merchant relationships.

Seed merchants do not make great profits from royalties, he maintains. "In some cases royalties can account for 20% of the cost of the seed to the farmer, which is a substantial mark-up that has to be passed on."

In practice, to retain business, margins are often eroded to offset such charges, he claims.

Hard to justify

Apparent inconsistencies in royalty rates across the EU – with C2 Brigadier attracting £50/t in the UK but only £30/t in Ireland – are also hard to justify to farmerrs

Ridleys Seeds is not a member of UKASTA. Neither is Dunns of Long Sutton, Lincs, whose Ian Mustill says merchants have long been seen as a soft option for collecting royalties.

"We are very disappointed with the way the BSPB has run the job. We said all along it would be better to have a levy on grain or acreage payments. It would be quite simple and easy to work."

John Stanley, of Warks-based Milcote Hall Quality Seeds, another non-UKASTA member, says merchants are effectively unpaid tax collectors. "Royalties in general are far too high," he argues. "If they were brought back to sensible levels there would not be so much farm-saved seed." &#42

Andrew Blake