Anyone saving their own seed must pay more to the breeders this autumn. Gilly Johnson reports.
ROYALTY rates on farm-saved seed (FSS) are going up by about 5% – but this rise is not expected to generate any bad feeling between growers and breeders. Thats because the hike in rates follows an agreed formula linking FSS rates to the proportion of home-saved seed being used.
If more growers save seed, then rates go up. And the proportion of farm-saved cereal seed has risen – by about 1% to 32%.
This is probably a reflection of a high quality, dry harvest last year, rather than due to the impact of any prospective royalty charge. This has triggered some changes to the royalty rates payable (see table), which have risen by £1/t for wheat and a little more for barley.
In peas, the use of farm-saved seed has fallen. As a result, the royalty rate has dropped by £3.24/t.
With rain and disease currently raising worries about harvest quality, it seems highly likely that the volume of farm-saved seed will drop and lead to a fall in royalty charges.
Collecting FSS royalties went smoothly last season, with the majority of growers honouring the new requirement to pay. With about £1.7m extra cash in the kitty, the plant breeders are pleased with the industrys "positive response".
Confrontation was avoided, thanks to good co-operation between breeders, the trade and farming unions, says Dr Roger Turner, chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).
The collection system proved hassle-free. Most of the payments came in via BSPB-registered seed processors and merchants. The royalty charge appears as an extra item on the seed cleaning invoice, and so growers arent obliged to take the trouble of calculating their own liability.
The seed processors then pass the money on to the BSPB. The big advantage of this payment scheme is its simplicity for growers, which must go some way to easing the pain of payment.
Growers can still elect to pay the charge themselves, rather than through a BSPB-registered seed processor. This might be appropriate when cleaning seed on-farm with an unregistered processor, or using FSS unprocessed.
Where payment is made direct, then it has to be calculated on an area basis, rather than per tonne of seed. The grower has to work out their own liability, and return a completed form with payment to the BSPB. In this situation, the area charges (see table) are worked out using average seed rates.
If this area option was not available, and all payments were collected on a tonnage basis, then anyone using a high seed rate – routine in Scotland where seedbed conditions are more difficult – would effectively be paying more. Allowing the area option was one way of redressing the balance for northern growers. However, it is not clear whether it will continue indefinitely.
In general, the consensus is that growers are willing to pay the price, to ensure that the flow of new varieties does not dry up. "Its absolutely right that we should pay, and at present the rate seems fair," says Roger Waite, regional farms director with farming company Velcourt. "And this season the collection scheme and the form-filling has not proved any problem for us."
On the three Kent units he controls, farm-saved seed makes up about 30% of the 2,330ha (945 acres) arable area in an average season. This proportion is not affected "in any way" by the imposition of the royalty charge. "We are home saving to ensure top quality, and to have seed at the right time."
Because of their suitability for early drilling and proven yield performance, Mr Waite continues to grow several older varieties such as Riband, Beaver and Haven. At present these do not incur FSS royalties. Under the agreement between the BSPB and farming unions, these old varieties will not be liable to be included in the scheme until 2001.
Dr Turner stresses that this will not change, although under new legislation the BSPB would be legally allowed to claim payment before then – if it so desired.