Cereal backlash on cards following spud seed row
By Andrew Swallow
UNILATERAL action by the British Society of Plant Breeders on royalty rates for farm-saved potato seed could prompt a grower backlash on farm-saved cereals, warns the NFU.
"We do not want to go down that route, but they should be able to justify where they have got the rate figures from for potatoes," says potato committee chairman Graham Nichols.
The BSPBs imposition of a royalty rate on farm-saved potato seed ignores six years of negotiations with the NFU, which were at one point close to settlement at a levy rate of £13.50/ha, he adds.
But that deal fell through and an apparently random £25/ha rate has been demanded from growers on five varieties grown from FSS in 2001.
That has now been extended to a list of 40 varieties for 2002, with FSS royalty rates ranging from £20/ha to £35/ha (£8-£14/acre).
"We accept that we have to pay a part royalty on home-saved seed, but the BSPB has by-passed the NFU and thinks it can just go ahead and charge a figure that has been plucked out of the sky," fumes Mr Nichols.
BSPB chief executive Roger Turner says the rates have been set by individual plant breeders and could go as high as £65/ha (£26/acre).
That alarms Mr Nichols. The imposition of an FSS royalty rate without a clear underlying formula of how it is calculated sets a dangerous precedent, he believes.
"In five years time it could be £50/ha," he warns. Also, while the varieties listed for 2002 do not include any significant names, varieties as important as Estima could be included in future.
NFU policy adviser Lisa Patt-erson says growers are legally obliged to return the declaration forms sent out recently. But there is no need to provide information on varieties that are not listed on the form or the number of hectares the grower has planted with certified seed.
Both parties say they are prepared to reopen negotiations.
• Mr Nichols questions how the BSPB came by its list of potato growers. "I always thought that data was covered by the data protection act." Dr Turner says the licensors of the varieties provided the BSPB with names and addresses of potential growers of their varieties. "Each company has clauses covering the data protection act." *