In an economy where fuel and plant fertilizer costs keep rising, farmers can be tempted to save a little cash by buying crop seed from a neighbor for the next season or to sell it himself.
That line of thinking leads to legal problems, said Wade Krivanek, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture's seed program administrator, who is finding himself warning more local producers to be careful.
"We're seeing quite a bit of it this year, mostly classified ads in local newspapers, but you might even find some in big daily newspapers and on bulletin boards at local coffee shops," he said. "I don't think folks out there are intentionally trying to break the law. ... About 90 percent of the time, they just don't know the laws exist for licensing and labeling."
Joe Neal Hampton, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Seed Trade Association, said he can guess at the underlying reason incidents are rising: "I can't say exactly why they're doing it, but with fertilizer and fuel problems and the market being down right now, it's a scary situation in the ag community," he said.
Hampton and other industry experts said Oklahoma wheat producers have tried to illegally "brown-bag" seed for years. Most transgressions fall under the Plant Variety Protection Act, a federal law protecting the intellectual property of corporations and universities that spend large amounts of money biologically tweaking plant varieties. The logic is akin to copyright protection for music CDs or other technology, Hampton said, allowing the original buyer to get the most of a product for his own use - a second generation of plant seed, for example, or copy of a CD - as long as he doesn't try to sell it to someone else.
Krivanek said the rules are relatively simple: Sellers must be licensed seed dealers, the seed must be tested and properly labeled, and inspection fees for the seed must be paid. Companies and individuals advertising seed for sale must also include their dealer's license number in advertisements.
"Our seed laws are in place to protect farmers from purchasing inferior quality seeds," Krivanek said. "No grower can afford the consequences of planting wheat that may contain noxious weed seeds or that will have a low germination rate. It has never been as important to know exactly what you are planting as it is today. …