Since biotech crops were first introduced on the market in 1994, American farmers have made them the most swiftly adopted agricultural technology in history. These high tech seeds containing patented new traits are more expensive than their conventionally bred counterparts, but farmers place great value on their ability to reduce overall costs, deliver important environmental benefits, and increase per-acre profitability. Yet, while farmers who choose biotech seeds find them worth their higher prices, many of them are eagerly awaiting the expiration of the patents on popular biotech traits over the coming few years.
The patent on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean trait, the most widely adopted crop biotechnology product in the world, and the patents covering another 22 biotech traits and processes are expected to expire over the next decade. Such patent expirations should make it possible for plant breeders to sell “generic” versions of these seeds, resulting in greater competition and lower prices. Unfortunately, a quirk in the way biotech crops are regulated in the United States and other countries poses several challenges that may make it difficult for breeders to develop a generic seed industry.