Roundup Ready Soybean Seed Arbitration in Arkansas: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

Over the past few years, the number of seed arbitration cases in Arkansas has sharply increased due to complaints involving Roundup Ready(R)soybean cultivars. Soybean farmers have requested reimbursement for the losses resulting from failure of the Roundup Ready(R) soybean to germinate and produce adequate stands. This transgenic soybean is tolerant of the herbicide, Roundup, and costs about 20 % more when compared to non-Roundup Ready cultivars. Seed dealers blamed the extremely hot and dry weather conditions near planting time for stand failures. Farmers argued that other Roundup Ready(R) cultivars planted at the same time produced adequate stands. While the Arbitration Committee of the Arkansas State Plant Board attempted to settle these cases without the added inconvenience and cost of court, the vast majority of their judgments have been rejected. The case was used as a teaching tool in an upper level crop management course to familiarize students with the interview, reporting, and arbitration process. Additionally, students gained experience in collaboration efforts, as the project fostered both individual and team efforts.

Introduction

Thanks to the USDA Federal Seed Act and state guidelines, farmers can expect to purchase high quality seeds which perform according to their label. These federal and state guidelines were established to ensure the sale of high-quality agronomic seed. The question becomes whether or not failure to germinate is an absolute indication of quality, or do adverse environmental conditions relieve seed dealers from obligation? The Seed Arbitration Committee of the Arkansas State Plant Board has faced the difficult challenge of deciding whether seed dealers are responsible for the lack of stand establishment in several Roundup Ready soybean cultivars.

In addition to unpredictable weather, southern soybean farmers must battle weeds. This invasive category of plants can quickly gain competitive advantage over soybeans for water, nutrients, and sunlight. The non-selective herbicide, glyphosate developed by Monsanto and marketed under the name Roundup(R), has revolutionized weed control. Through genetic engineering, Monsanto created what appeared to be the ultimate soybean, Roundup Ready(R), a new class of soybean cultivars which can tolerate the use of Roundup(R) sprayed postemergent.

Roundup Ready(R) soybean cultivars were approved by the Agriculture Department in 1994 and the EPA in 1995 (Chemical Week, 1995), and they became available to Mid-South farmers in the spring of 1996 (Conner, 1995). In the early stages of product development, Roundup Ready(TM) soybean yields were disappointing when compared to non-Roundup Ready cultivars in statewide cultivar trials (personal communication, D. Dombek, Director of Arkansas Soybean Variety Testing Program ). Yields improved with time, but lower than expected performance continued to be a major concern (Holmberg, 1996).

In 1997, several field days were organized in Arkansas by Monsanto to showcase the performance of the Roundup Ready(R) soybean. These field days were held near Proctor and at the Hartz Seed Research Center in Stuttgart. In both places, growers showed optimism for the performance of the new biotech cultivars (Thompson, 1997). Proponents of Roundup Ready(R) technology claimed that any losses resulting from decreased yields were no greater than those incurred by using conventional herbicides, which are often less effective and more damaging to plant growth. For many farmers, especially those involved with large-scale production, the convenience of weed control with Roundup Ready(R) cultivars ultimately outweighed occasional yield declines (personal communication, D. Dombek and L. Ashlock, Arkansas Soybean Extension Specialist).

The primary objectives of the case study were to enhance student skills in researching background information, conducting interviews, and presenting formal reports. …