By Contributor on February 19, 2013

By Debbie Barker

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that should concern every small farmer and rural community in America.

The case, Bowman v. Monsanto Co., boils down to whether giant agrichemical companies can dominate the U.S. seed industry and prohibit farmers from replanting seeds harvested from patented crops owned by these corporations.

Farmers have been saving, buying, replanting and breeding seeds for centuries. Yet today, with patents in hand, huge corporations are prosecuting farmers for these age-old practices. Seeds, once a shared, renewable resource, are now being privatized and monopolized.

For example, today, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market. This shift to commercialization, consolidation and control of seed ownership over the last few decades, enshrined by current patent law, has fundamentally changed farming in the United States.

Vernon Hugh Bowman’s case is illustrative of the extreme scope of control that today’s patent system gives to corporations. The 75-year-old Indiana farmer purchased and planted soybean seeds from a grain elevator. The seeds were sold as a mix of undifferentiated commodity seeds.

When Monsanto investigators found that some of the soybeans Bowman planted sprang from their proprietary seeds, the company sued him for patent infringement.

Bowman chose to fight. “It’s a simple matter of right and wrong,” he says.

Unfortunately, Bowman’s struggle is not unique. Monsanto has instituted thousands of “seed piracy matters” against farmers in at least 27 states. Under financial duress, many farmers who were accused of patent infringement, even when based on insubstantial evidence, were forced to settle out of court rather than face expensive and lengthy lawsuits to defend themselves. These settlements have resulted in farmers paying Monsanto tens of millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court ought to rule in favor of Bowman so that instead of farmers becoming modern-day serfs of agrichemical companies, they can regain traditional seed rights.

Debbie Barker is the international director of Center for Food Safety and project director of Save Our Seeds. She was the senior editor of a new report by the two groups entitled “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers.” The groups have submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of Vernon Bowman. Barker can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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