RR1 soybean trait to expire in 2014, but does it matter?
Farmers probably aren’t familiar with the name 5-enolpyruvyl-shikimic acid-3-phosphate, but it’s a technology that revolutionized soybeans back in 1996. Today, more than 90% of farmers use it.
Better known as the Roundup Ready (RR) soybean trait, the technology is set to expire beginning in 2014. What does that mean to farmers’ day-to-day operations—if anything?
The biggest change for soybean farmers is that starting with their 2014 harvest, they will have the chance to save or "brown-bag" RR1 soybean seed for the first time.
Despite the newfound freedom, says Dan Davidson, director of strategic research programs with the Illinois Soybean Association, the impact at the farm level will be minimal.
"Most farmers won’t miss a beat," he says. "I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deal, although it’s good to know what’s going to happen."
Moving forward. As the expiration date nears, a top priority is to make sure that saving RR1 seed doesn’t cause any unintended, unexpected roadblocks. According to Bernice Slutsky, American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) vice president of science and international affairs, several groups are working hard behind the scenes to make sure farmers who save seed will continue to have full export market access.
"This creates a challenge for the industry," Slutsky says. "Even though an event comes off patent here in the United States, these are highly regulated events that can be pretty complicated on the global market. We want to ensure all export markets stay open with no impediments."
ASTA and the Biotechnology Industry Organization are putting together agreements to address potential issues. For example, what happens when a hybrid or variety has two or more events stacked in its genetics and only one of those events comes off patent? In corn alone, there are 13 separate events available for stacking in an individual hybrid, which translates to hundreds of potential combinations.
Slutsky says the desired result is for farmers and seed companies to have transparent agreements in place.
"For seed companies, it provides a clear means for them to take advantage of commercial opportunities of off-patent biotech traits while ensuring domestic and international regulatory approvals are maintained," she says. "For farmers, this means that access to international markets will be unchanged, keeping trade doors open and helping to increase profitability."
The next generation of Roundup Ready soybeans—Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield (R2Y)—has been commercially available for four years, allowing many farmers time to make their own evaluations.
"We were promised a 3.2 bu. per acre increase for our area [compared with Roundup Ready technology], and I think we’ve been getting it," says Ron Kindred, a corn and soybean farmer and Illinois Soybean Association board member from Atlanta, Ill.
"I think farmers might get an advantage from this because other companies will have access to the technology and be able to do their own breeding," he adds.
"It’s an exciting time to be in the seed industry," Slutsky says. "Seed has become a vehicle that provides a lot of benefit to the farmer."