Pro tip: If you’re an elderly small-time soybean farmer, make sure you’re really, really careful not to piss off huge GMO-based companies like Monsanto. That’s a lesson that 76-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman probably wishes he’d learned before a lawsuit from Monsanto went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Bowman was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000 in damages for planting patented soybeans.
The whole thing started with a single batch of Monsanto’s patented pesticide-resistant soybeans. Monsanto sells the soybeans to farmers with the agreement that second-generation seeds will be destroyed and not used for re-planting purposes, forcing farmers to buy a new batch of seed every year in exchange for hardier crops. Bowman raised a crop of Monsanto soybeans early in the growing season, but decided that he didn’t want to shell out for expensive seed to plant a risky second crop later in the season. Instead, Bowman purchased a load of unlabeled seed from a warehouse, hoping that some of the seeds would happen to contain the Monsanto gene. The crop was a success, so Bowman harvested the seeds and used them to plant subsequent crops. Monsanto viewed this as a violation of patent law and sued the pants off Bowman.
Now, after five years of costly soybean-based litigation, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Monsanto and Bowman owes Monsanto $84,000 in damages. That might not be a lot of money for Monsanto — especially since they control over 90% of the genetically modified seed market — but it’s a major blow to Bowman.