GENET archive


4-Patents: Monsanto's bean detectives visit Nebraskan farmers

   "'Actually, I laughed at them right off the bat, I thought it was
    funny,' Gansebom said. 'Afterward, it was like 'What the heck?' It was
    kind of like gestapo tactics.'"

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Bean detectives visit Nebraskan
SOURCE: Omaha World Herald, USA, by Chris Clayton
        114pcgansebom.jpg attached
DATE:   5 Nov 2004

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Bean detectives visit Nebraskan

Nebraska farmer Vernon Gansebom has spent the better part of the last two
years talking to people about how to save his biotech soybean seeds to
legally use them next year.

picture attached
Vernon Gansebom, 80, of Osmond, Neb., has been pushing to be allowed to
replant his harvested soybean seeds, which Monsanto Co. doesn't allow.

Gansebom's efforts to speak to trade groups, generate support among other
farmers and talk with seed companies finally got someone's attention. Two
private detectives from St. Louis drove to Osmond, Neb., last month to
talk to Gansebom.

"They didn't exactly say how they got my name, but they said somebody
must have turned me in," Gansebom said.

Gansebom is one of about 500 farmers Monsanto Co. will investigate this
year, as it does every year, for possibly illegally using the company's
patented seeds. To put that into perspective, Monsanto has about 300,000
customers who buy soybean seeds that have been modified by Monsanto so
that farmers can apply the herbicide Roundup without hurting crops.

That doesn't include corn or cotton growers who also annually buy seeds
with a Monsanto-patented trait.

More than 80 percent of the nation's soybean crop has some type of
patented technology that makes it illegal for those farmers to save
seeds. In Nebraska, 86 percent of soybeans, about 4 million acres, have
such restrictions.

Monsanto officials said the company assumes each farmer is innocent, and
that most cases are quickly resolved.

"Usually what we like to do is just go directly to the farmer, visit with
the farmer about that," said Scott Baucum, director of seed stewardship
for Monsanto in the United States. "It becomes apparent, in fact pretty
quickly, if there is a problem."

Once Monsanto finds a farmer has illegally used seeds, the company will
seek a settlement. Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers for patent
violation, with about 70 going to trial. At least one Tennessee farmer
lost a $2.9 million patent lawsuit. He also went to federal prison for
lying and covering up his actions.

"The vast majority of these calls work out without having to go to
litigation," Baucum said. "We've got about 10 cases in litigation right now."

Monsanto spokeswoman Julie Doane, a Nebraska native, said protecting
Monsanto's patents is critical for the company, which spends more than
$500 million annually on crop research. She also points out that any
money received in a case brought against a farmer goes to a scholarship
fund created by Monsanto.

Gansebom, 80, said the private detectives who visited his farm asked him
to sign a statement authorizing them to pull his acreage records at the
Pierce County Farm Service Agency office.

"Actually, I laughed at them right off the bat, I thought it was funny,"
Gansebom said. "Afterward, it was like 'What the heck?' It was kind of
like gestapo tactics."

The detectives also wanted Gansebom's seed dealer to tell them how much
seed Gansebom bought last year. The seed dealer declined to provide the
information, as did Gansebom's son, who keeps such records.

Gansebom said he hasn't heard from the men since, so he doesn't know if
they got what they were looking for.

Earlier this month Monsanto sent private investigators to Vernon
Gansebom's house to make him prove he bought all the soybeans he planted
this year.

"We used to always plant our own seed, but they've taken that away from
us," Gansebom said. "I don't feel right about that."

Biotech crops provide advantages to producers, particularly in reduction
of pesticide use because gene traits attack pests. For soybean growers,
the biggest advantage is an ability to control weeds without manual labor.

A report by the National Center for Food & Agricultural Policy stated
that Nebraska farmers in 2003 benefited from biotech groups by producing
743 million more pounds of corn and soybeans combined. That added $81
million to farmer income in the state. The report projects that pesticide
usage also was about 2.8 million pounds less because of biotech varieties
of seed.

Soybean farmers this year paid about $30 per acre for soybean seeds
immune to Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup. The price for next year's crop
will be closer to $45. Monsanto has lowered the cost for Roundup, mainly
because farmers were buying more generic brands.

"They lowered the price of the Roundup, but they raised the price of the
beans," Gansebom said. "They have a goldarned patent, but you're talking
about a hefty raise. I won't be the only guy bellyaching about it."

Gansebom understands that Monsanto should get some money for developing
the technology that makes growing soybeans so much easier. The Roundup
Ready soybeans have eliminated long hours walking rows to remove weeds by
hand. Now farmers can kill weeds with a quick spray of Roundup without
killing the soybean.

"Oh, you just can't believe what it does to those weeds," Gansebom said.
"There's no weed problem once you get going."

Because of the seed-saving restrictions, Gansebom has pushed for a
program that would allow him to pay Monsanto a royalty, or "tech fee"
when he sells his grain. Monsanto now tacks on a tech fee of $6 to $10 a bag.

"I'd like to be able to say if we plant so many acres of beans we owe a
tech fee," Gansebom said. "I figure if possible we would pay that
directly to Monsanto. I don't begrudge Monsanto for their tech fee one iota."

In Brazil, farmers found using Monsanto's patented seeds illegally pay $7
a ton as a tech fee when they deliver their soybeans to market. Gansebom
likes that idea.

"That's a good deal," he said. "I'd like to be in the same boat. If they
can do that there, why can't we do it here?"

Baucum said administering a separate tech-fee program would cost far more
than the system now in place. Baucum also said farmers would lose quality
in their seeds if they saved them. They wouldn't gain the benefits of new

"It is a much better deal for growers under our current system," Baucum said.


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