The strict laws regarding what kinds of seeds can be sold have left farmers in Germany with very little choice about what to sow on their farms, as they are limited to only a few industrial and uniform varieties. Sometimes farmers may like a particular variety, but it can quickly disappear when the variety becomes unprofitable to the company who bred it. This is what happened in 2004 when the German seed company Europlant took back ‘Linda,’ a popular variety of potato. The 30 years of the company’s exclusive property claims on ‘Linda’ through a PVP certificate had run out, and with it, the 10-15% licensing fees on the price that they could charge each time the variety was sold as seed. When the Europlant breeders asked that ‘Linda’ be taken off the catalogue, anyone who farmed it commercially would be acting illegally. ‘Linda’ was to disappear from the market, to be replaced by new varieties for which profitable licensing fees could be charged once again.
Yet thanks to farmers’ organised resistance and a good media campaign, within months a strong ‘save the Linda potato’ campaign ensued all over Germany. German consumers who generally know how to identify two types of crops reliably—apples and potatoes—recognised ‘Linda’ as a variety that they liked and supported the farmers.
In the courts, it was settled that ‘Linda’ could remain on the market for two more years. Thereafter, ‘Linda’ did not meet the strict requirements needed to remain on the German catalogue. Yet it is today again available to farmers all over Europe because it was accepted for sale in another European country, this time in England. The ‘Linda’ potato is seen as a success story against the industry. But the incident also made farmers acutely aware of how much they depend on the market and on the whims of the companies who only offer profitable seed varieties on the market.
Another case in Germany ended up with a farmers victory when the highest court ruled that companies could not send “spies” to inquire what kind of seeds farmers were using on their farms in order to collect royalties.