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Royalties from popular wheat seed stem from 50-year-old legislation

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ratifying of the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA), passed in 1970. At that time, life – even the life of plants and seeds – was not considered to be patentable.

Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in charge of granting certificates that protect new plant varieties for 20 years – 25 years for vines and trees. That office is the Agricultural Marketing Service Plant Variety Protection Office. Its certificates allow breeders to collect royalties.

Plant variety certificates should not be confused with plant patents, said Steve Knox, manager of the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association. The association is involved in certification of crop seeds.

“We are the keepers of intellectual property rights,” Knox said. “PVPA Title V means varieties have to be certified. It effects the number of new varieties that can come out.”

The PVPA has had a huge influence on Nebraska agribusiness, Knox said. It provides patent-like protections to breeders of variations of existing plants – plants which have been specifically bred to incorporate specific characteristics desired by farmers.

One example is the Nebraska Overland Wheat variety. This hard red winter wheat was developed by UNL’s Agricultural Experiment Station supported by the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

“This wheat has had a massive impact,” Knox said. “It has been planted since 2008. It has great disease resistance.”

Overland is used in Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, as well as all over Nebraska, he said. Due to PVPA, the breeder Dr. Stephen Baenziger has been able to collect royalties on the sale of the seed. This has allowed him to cultivate new varieties such as Mace, SettlerCL and McGill.

Recently, the NCIA has certified NuPride Genetics Network’s new wheat variety – Siege wheat. According to NuPride, Siege is a narrowly adapted semidwarf wheat to eastern and southcentral Nebraska where its grain yield, resistance to leaf rust and stripe rust and very good straw strength make it particularly attractive.

“It is a really good eastern wheat,” Knox said. “It has great yield potential and should be available this season.”

The newest farm bill amended the PVPA to add asexually propagated plants. Under the original version of the act, just seeds and tubers were protected.

Jon Burleson can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.  

Jon Burleson is the Midwest Messenger reporter, based out of eastern Nebraska. Reach him at jon.burleson@lee.net.