The Importance of Patenting Seeds, and Other Agricultural News this Week.


Photo: “Reach for the Sky” (jumpinjimmyjava/Flickr)

Below, is a selection of recent agriculture-related news.

Today’s news post title comes from the latest post over at Applied Mythology by scientist Steve Savage titled “A Defense of Plant and Crop Related Patents.” He explains why the process is important and necessary. Let me digress here… An anti-seed patenting sentiment is promoted by many pundits and activists. There is, at the same time, a global chorus proclaiming that we need to invest far more in R&D for agriculture so that in the future we are able to produce more with less. Seed (and other) genetic advancements offer a great deal of hope and potential for those gains and for scientific progress to occur. This might be a good time to bring up the fact that many activists also think that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is evil because it supports biotech seeds and invests in companies that do that work. I, personally, don’t think that Bill and Melinda are that stupid (or evil), and I’d venture to assume that they’ve delved pretty deeply into the issues before making their decisions. The corporate system involved is not perfect in this field, nor is government regulation, but it’s the system that we have in place through which we carry on. Here’s a quote from the article:

The effort and originality involved in patenting of plant lines and of genes is often spoken of as if it is some trivial, and thus undeserving activity. That is only believable if you’ve never engaged in the process.

In other news . . .

According to the FAO, the earliest forecasts for the 2013 wheat harvest point to production increasing to 690 million tonnes – up 4.3 percent over 2012. This would be the second largest crop on record.

Here’s how the sequester might affect the USDA.

Rural subprime. A federal program that guarantees home loans to rural borrowers has seen taxpayer losses and foreclosure rates skyrocket. … USDA spent $27.8 billion on the program, which reimburses private lenders for up to 90 percent of the cost of default for loans made to low- and moderate-income borrowers in rural areas, in the four fiscal years ending in 2011. The USDA “did not undertake required steps to minimize taxpayer losses.”

From an ERS USDA report…

According to 2010 data, 2.1 million households, or 1.8 percent of all U.S. households, lived farther than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket and lacked access to a vehicle. This compares with 2.4 million households, or 2.3 percent of all households, in 2006. Vehicle access increased between 2000 and 2010 for both low- and high-income households.

RINS credits have skyrocketed, up 1400% this year because refiners worry about meeting blending mandates, dubbed RIN-Sanity.

Farmgate analyzed the unprofitable ethanol industry, the reason plants are shut down, and where the profits went this past season. (Regular readers know that I have been a broken record saying that ethanol policy is a gift to large agribusiness. That was, in a roundabout way, this Urbana Ag economist, Stu Ellises’ conclusion.)

An Indiana POET ethanol plant is bidding on wheat instead of expensive, scarce, corn.

Monsanto paid $35 million for an Israeli plant trait company.

In Climate Change news, this was this week’s big story.

This NYTs Sunday Opinion page spoke in favor of genetically modified salmon, goat milk, and pigs to advance food production.

It’s still really dry in New Zealand.

Locust swarms have entered Israel from Egypt.

Interesting from this ERS USDA report:

About 18 percent of cropland planted to corn in 2010 was in corn continuously over the previous 3 years. For wheat, the numbers are similar–about 14 percent of spring wheat acreage in 2009 was in wheat continuously over the previous 3 years. For soybeans, continuous cropping is less common. In 2006, about 6 percent of soybean acreage had been planted to soybeans continuously for at least 3 years. Based on ARMS data spanning 1996-2010, a 2-year rotation of corn and soybeans is one of the most widely adopted crop rotations, accounting for the majority of corn and soybean acreage. But farmers also use many other rotation systems, with wheat being the most common “other” crop included in rotations with corn and soybeans.

From 1977 to 2012, commercial pork production in the United States increased 174 percent from slaughtering more and bigger hogs mostly through improved genetics.

Whole Foods plans to label GM food by 2018, five years from now.

Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobile was on Charlie Rose. The interview was quite interesting. He complained that government interfering with the free markets kills innovation and puts us behind where we need to be to solve future energy problems (obviously referring to ethanol mandates at one point). He said that algae biofuel is more than 25 years away because the science isn’t there. If energy interests you, this is worth watching. But, even as Tillerson is pessimistic about algae biodiesel technology, the UAE sounds hopeful in this article.

Using turnips instead of hay to feed livestock in the Northeast:

Although not commonly grown for cattle feed in northern New England, brassicas have long been recognized by the scientific and agricultural communities as high-quality forages. Brassicas grown for forage include turnips, rutabaga, kale and kohlrabi. Soule and Dawson chose turnips because they produce abundant leaves, develop highly nutritive roots, and retain their feed value in cold weather. Research has suggested that brassicas can extend the northern New England grazing season up to three months.

NYTs “Well” promoted Bulgur Wheat.

Promoting the primitive wheat, spelt, in Britain. This sounds like a worthy cause.

There is a premium price paid for non-GM soya and they are gladly producing it in Brazil for poultry feed in Britain.

Well-known Minnesota Environmental Prof, Jonathan Foley, wrote “It’s Time to Rethink Americas Corn System” for SciAm.

It is important to note that these criticisms of the larger corn system — a behemoth largely created by lobbyists, trade associations, big businesses and the government — are not aimed at farmers. … In this economic and political landscape, they would be crazy not to grow corn; farmers are simply delivering what markets and policies are demanding.

More on urban farming and aquaponics, this is in Switzerland.

BONUS: Here’s a youtube video of a farmer who falls asleep out of the boredom of auto GPS steering of his tractor (Case Quadtrac seeding 2012).

Written and compiled by K. McDonald.

One thought on “The Importance of Patenting Seeds, and Other Agricultural News this Week.

  1. Jeremy

    Can we agree to disagree on the *level* of protection afforded to seeds and plants? Time was when improving productivity, and other aspects of agriculture, was considered a public good, to be undertaken (or funded) essentially by government. Now, government does the basic research, as a public good, that enables the private companies to take things forward, as private goods. There’s an imbalance here.

    Reply

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