Let’s examine this corporate control a little further and look at it from the family farm level. My farm in particular. When we buy Monsanto’s GMO seeds we get to sign a Technology/Stewardship Agreement. Section 4 of the 2011 agreement I have on file covers everything the grower must agree to when purchasing these products. Here’s a quick rundown of the requirements.
*If we buy or lease land that is already seeded with Monsanto technology that year we need to abide by the contract. Makes sense to me. If I end up leasing ground in crop for some reason, I should honor the agreements it was planted with.
*Read and follow the Technology Use Guide and Insect Resistance Management/Grower Guide. So Monsanto has ideas on how best to use their product. Some of it is required by the EPA to make sure farmers like me understand how to steward the technology. No big surprise there. Not to mention if you read the guides you’ll find a ton of good agronomic information.
*Implement an Insect Resistance Management program. Shocking! Monsanto thinks controlling pests responsibly is a good idea, and if you farm insects are something you deal with no matter what type of crop you may have.
*We should only buy seed from a dealer or seed company licensed by Monsanto. I’d want to do that anyway. It’s for my own good. Would you buy a brand new home entertainment system out of the back of some guy’s van parked in an alley? Me neither.
*We agree to use seed with Monsanto technology solely for planting a single commercial crop. And don’t sell any to your neighbor either it says. That’s right, we can’t save seed to grow the next year, and frankly I’m not interested in doing that. For the critics who are not sold on GMO crops anyway do they really want farmers holding onto this seed and planting it without any kind of paper trail?
*If you want to plant seed to be used as seed you need to sign an agreement to do so with a seed company licensed by Monsanto. We do this for two different companies. In fact we’ve actually worked with one company through several name changes long before GMO showed up. Why? Because we can get a premium price for the soybeans we grow that will be used as seed by other farmers next year.
*We can’t grow seed to be used for breeding, research, or generation of herbicide registration data. That gets back to saving seed. If we wanted to breed our own varieties I’m sure we could get into doing that, but I look at it right now as division of labor. Seed companies are great at coming up with great products, and American farmers are great (in many cases the best) at turning those products into a bounty of food, feed, fuel, and fiber.
*Our farm has agreed to only export and plant these crops in countries that allow them. OK that’s kind of a no brainer.
*Here’s the part where some people think family farmers become slaves to the corporations. The part where GMO seeds force us to buy our chemicals from the same company. But if you’ve got a Technology/Stewardship Agreement handy you’ll find that’s not true. If I plant Roundup® Ready (RR) crops Monsanto would sure like me to use Roundup® herbicide on them, but I don’t have to. The agreement says that for RR crops that I should only use Roundup® herbicide…………………OR another authorized herbicide which could not be used in the absence of the RR gene. When I worked off the farm I sold a lot of generic brand glyphosate. It’s just like buying your grocer’s private label brand of cough medicine instead of the name brand. The only catch is if you have a problem you need to talk with the company who provided the herbicide. If we spray Brand X and it doesn’t work it won’t do any good to go crying to Monsanto. That sounds like pretty standard business practice to me. Furthermore, I don’t even have to use glyphosate on my glyphosate tolerant crops. This year we will have waxy corn from Pioneer and waxy from a local dealer who sells Monsanto products. The latter will be RR, but the Pioneer variety won’t. We will likely plant them in the same field side by side to see which one performs better. If we spray glyphosate on those acres all the Pioneer corn will die! Instead we will control weeds with a herbicide that all corn resists naturally.
*We have to pay for the seed. Ridiculous isn’t it? Paying for something that gives value in return?
*We may have to provide documents supporting that we are following the agreement within 7 days after getting a request from Monsanto. I’m not worried about that if I’m following the agreement anyway.
*If Monsanto asks to do so they can inspect our land, storage bins, wagons, etc. Again I’m not worried.
*And finally we agree to allow Monsanto to obtain our internet service provider records to validate an electronic signature. If anything on this list is questionable it’s this one. I’m just not sure electronic signatures are the way to go personally, but it’s becoming more common. Even for the President.
If you want to see the exact wording of the contract, click to view a PDF of my 2011 Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement.
So there you have it. That’s what we have to agree to in order to make use of Monsanto’s biotechnology on our farm. I don’t see anything in there that hurts my farm. I don’t have to buy their herbicides, and I don’t have to buy anything from them next year if I don’t want to.
The biggest problem I have with seed companies is that it seems like they phase out a variety from time to time that is a really strong performer on our farm. I understand the concern organic farms have with GMO crops in close proximity to their own. Those farmers have worked hard and shown patience in getting an organic certification, and they don’t want to start over again. Even though we don’t have any neighbors farming organically, it’s important that we are careful when making field applications. We hope our neighbors do the same because our waxy corn generally isn’t RR and our popcorn definitely is not. You could also have drift from any corn field do damage to soybeans next door, so even guys like me are sympathetic to the practices of other farms.