Check out this news out of Washington today:
“The Supreme Court agreed with Monsanto on Monday that an Indiana farmer’s unorthodox planting of the company’s genetically modified soybeans violated the agricultural giant’s patent.
The court unanimously rejected farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman’s argument that he was not violating Monsanto’s patent because the company’s pesticide-resistent “Roundup Ready” soybeans replicate themselves. Justice Elena Kagan said there is no such “seeds-are-special” exception to the law.”
This sounds familiar to the plot of At Any Price, a rural drama starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron that made a brief appearance in theaters earlier this month. The film follows several weeks in the life of Henry Whipple, an Iowa farmer and seed salesman who is being investigated by the Liberty Seed Company (a clear stand-in for Monsanto) for re-selling their genetically modified seeds to his customers. In my review, I noted that “the film sounds a note of alarm about the de facto state of deregulation in our agricultural policy that allows corporate giants like Liberty to squeeze family farmers dry until they turn on each other, destroying the very fabric of the American farming community in the process.”
But sometimes reality is more outrageous than fiction. Bowman did not re-sell Monsanto’s seeds. No, his crime was even less egregious than that:
“The farmer purchased Roundup Ready soybeans for his first planting of the year on the 300 acres he farms in southern Indiana. At the time of the purchase, he agreed he would not save seeds from the crop for future planting.”
But he did buy commodity soybeans, which are usually used for feed, from the local grain elevator for a second planting. As he hoped, those beans were mostly Roundup Ready — resistent to the weedkiller glyphosate — because that’s what most of his neighbors grow. He saved seed from those crops and bought more commodity beans for subsequent plantings.”
If you’re operating from a baseline of common sense, you might ask why Bowman had to promise not to save seeds from this crop for future planting. Well, Monsanto owns the patent on their genetically modified Roundup Ready beans; they are the seeds of choice for most farmers because they have been engineered to withstand Monsanto’s patented Roundup herbicide. When applied to a field, Roundup destroys everything in its path – except Roundup Ready plants. It’s a foolproof way to avoid weeds, but the current state of deregulation allows Monsanto to set whatever restrictions they want upon their customers. In order to maximize their profits, they make farmers buy these seeds every year instead of simply letting these “self-replicating” crops do nature’s work for them.
Bowman tried to circumvent the agreement with Monsanto by buying beans from the grain elevator and harvesting the seeds himself, but the Supreme Court, which harbors at least one former Monsanto employee, allowed the corporate giant to continue stacking the deck in their favor.
It makes the message of At Any Price even more timely – the film justifies the acts of people like Bowman by documenting the pressure Big Ag puts on the family farmer. It’s just a shame that so few people saw the film. As of this past week, the movie has been screened at 50 theaters and has grossed a total of $124,000. Yes, that’s thousand, not million. With the House and Senate debating the Farm Bill this week, perhaps a Capitol Hill screening is in order.