THE thorny issue of royalties on farm-saved seed (FSS) has been hammered out – successfully – between the plant breeders and the farming unions. Both sides should be congratulated on reaching what appears to be a fair deal.
Following a false start two years ago, the revised system for collecting the cash seems to have operated without a hitch this season. But now there are rumbles of discontent regarding the exemption of older varieties such as Riband, Hereward and Soissons. The plant breeders have always promised the industry that such old favourites will be free from FSS royalties until June 2001.
Due to the way the legislation has been framed in Europe, and so as a result in the UK, the plant breeders could change their minds – legally.
But they insist they will not. Now the seed processors, from within the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, are asking for more: a legal commitment to a permanent exemption for these older varieties. This all smacks of a degree of posturing.
What growers want is a reasonable deal. They are willing to pay something for the privilege of farm saved seed – to keep the new varieties coming. Is it worth wrangling, at this early stage, over the older varieties exemption?
Riband is probably the major player – but inevitably the area down to this wheat will drop off in four years time – even in Scotland, where it is the distillers favourite. By then Riband would be enjoying its twelfth birthday as a commercial variety – high time for retirement.
Plant breeders and growers must work together, with trust. As the squeeze on arable margins bites, both sides will need each other more than ever. Unnecessary confrontation should be avoided; there are plenty of potentially difficult issues.
For example, still to be sorted out is the compulsory licensing system for seed producers, which urgently needs reviewing – particularly relevant in the potato sector. Supermarkets are insisting on certain varieties, but producers often find it hard, and expensive, to source seed supplies. These are meaty issues for negotiators.