Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Monsanto Policies Cause Buzz in Land of Cotton

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Monsanto Policies Cause Buzz in Land of Cotton

Article excerpt

As it did on dairy farms and in soybean fields, Monsanto Co. is causing a buzz in cotton country by marketing a genetically engineered product.

The source of most negative remarks is a contract for the company's insect-fighting cotton, Bollgard.

Farmers must allow Monsanto to visit their properties for three years to make sure they don't save patented seeds from one year's crop for planting in the next year. "They seem excited about the technology, but the contract angers a lot of people," said Bill Robertson, extension agronomist for cotton at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. "It's a sensitive issue," said Brett Begemann, Monsanto's business director for cotton. "We wanted to put on the table what we expect. We respect their property rights; we want them to respect our property rights." Monsanto is hiring college students and retired agricultural extension agents this summer to help employees educate farmers and enforce the contract. Monsanto will tell farmers when it plans to visit, and it will only check properties when it suspects that the contract has been violated. Penalties can range from fines to legal action. Ironically, seed-saving is rare in the cotton fields, except in Texas. By contrast, seed-saving is a traditional practice among many soybean farmers. Cleaning and saving soybean seeds is relatively easy and cheap, but cotton-seed cleaning is arduous and expensive. Cotton-seed cleaning requires special facilities to remove lint, apply acid solutions and heat the seeds. Cotton growers appear more annoyed with Monsanto's marketing style than with its message. "There was a feeling among growers that you were dealing with scientists rather than with practical farmers," said William A. Percy II of Greenville, Miss., who will plant the cotton. "You hear some people complaining, but you don't hear them complaining enough not to get the seed," he said. "Anyway, the numbers are so compelling. We can't afford not to try it." It's hard to predict how many farmers will support angry words with action, but Monsanto conceded it provoked unwanted responses in a region where farmers and seed dealers have had close relationships for decades. …

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