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Published May 22, 2010, 12:00 AM

Seed commissioner: Keep durum sales legal

Due to renewed interest in planting durum wheat, state seed officials are concerned that a high demand for the grain may drive some producers to buy and sell durum illegally.

Due to renewed interest in planting durum wheat, state seed officials are concerned that a high demand for the grain may drive some producers to buy and sell durum illegally.

Since the production of commercial durum has fallen in the state, there has been a parallel reduction in durum seed production, said Ken Bertsch, North Dakota State Seed Department commissioner. Additionally, new loan rates, announced earlier this month, have driven higher interest in planting durum.

“There’s always a concern — and it’s not just North Dakota, it can be any state — with enforcement issues with seed laws, there’s nothing magical about that, there’s always a concern every year, that’s why we have a regulatory program,” Bertsch said. “When it becomes more critical is in a situation like this, where all of the sudden a potential shortage is touched on.”

Most durum varieties planted today are protected by Plant Variety Protection Title V, which states the variety may be sold only as a class of certified seed, Bertsch said.

“Brown bagging”, or illegally selling seed, bypasses the legal process of seed sales and payment of royalties or research fees by the variety owners. Violators of PVP seed law can be fined to $5,000 per sale, Bertsch said.

While certified seed may become a little bit harder to come by, Bertsch believes there should be an adequate supply of durum seed available.

Tracy Schumacher, a seed producer near Scranton, said he’s aware of some illegal durum sales in his area, and has notified the State Seed Department.

“Of course they have to do an investigation and everything, but it seems to be a dead-end street,” Schumacher said, adding it can be frustrating.

Schumacher said many producers will notify him early, in February and March when they need seed.

“About two weeks ago I had everything spoken for,” he said.

If someone has produced legal durum seed on their farm they can replant it legally, Bertsch said.

“That’s perfectly legal. Where we run into a problem is, you can’t sell protected varieties farmer-to-farmer,” he said.

In certain situations, temptation becomes great, he added.

“If farmer A sells it to him, he’s guilty of violating seed laws. If farmer B buys it, he’s guilty. If a third party conditions it, he can also be drawn in,” Bertsch said.

North Dakota seed laws require that seed sold in North Dakota be labeled with specific information regarding the variety and quality of the seed in the container. Proper labeling is required for all seed, whether it is a protected variety or not.

“Illegal seed sales are detrimental to the entire seed industry,” said Steve Sebesta, deputy seed commissioner. “The Seed Department monitors seed sale activities, including advertisements placed in state newspapers and trade magazines. Regulatory inspectors are in the field investigating activities related to illegal seed transactions and will actively pursue violations throughout the year.”

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