From MIT Technology Review:
Billy Maddox planted 100 acres of Roundup Ready soybeans this year. The big news is he didn’t pay Monsanto a dime.
It’s been 20 years since Monsanto developed its first genetically modified crops. Now some of its early patents are starting to expire, leading to the first “generic GMOs”—off-patent seeds that cost half as much and which farmers are free to save and replant.
Maddox, speaking in a Southern drawl as he drove down a road somewhere near Jonesboro, Arkansas, is a seed dealer who works with conventional varieties. This year was the first time he ever sold any GMOs. From the acres he planted he was able to collect thousands of bags of seeds genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, the weed killer Monsanto markets as Roundup.
“More than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are … Monsanto’s Roundup resistance genes”
“We cleaned it, bagged it, and sold it. I tried to make a little bit of money,” says Maddox. “Oh yeah, the farmer saves money. If they buy it from me this year, they can plant for themselves next year.”
When the patent on a blockbuster drug ends, cut-rate competitors jump in and suck up market share. It’s too soon to say if something exactly like that will happen with GMOs. “We’ve gotten calls from all over the country, but how big a deal it’s going to be we still don’t know,” says Donald Dombek, director of the University of Arkansas Crop Variety Improvement Program, which developed the seeds Maddox has been selling.
The GMO market is big enough for competition, and might need some: more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered with Monsanto’s Roundup resistance genes. By the bushel, it’s easily the most important biotech product ever.