I love seed packets almost as much as I love the seeds inside. Sometimes I purchase a seed packet just because I like the photo or seed packet design and I have no intention of ever growing the seeds. My seed keeping bin is stuffed with old seed packs of some seeds I've sown and packs that are there just as curios. Take, for example, this seed packet for ‘Lumina’ pumpkin. In the upper-right corner of the seed pack you’ll note that “P.V.P” is printed on the seed packet next to the name.
One year at a seed swap a gardener made a big deal about someone bringing F1 hybrid tomato seeds. It was a ridiculous scene to have to witness at an event like a seed swap. There’s nothing inherently wrong with F1 hybrids, if they’re not genetically modified. I felt really bad for the gardener with the hybrid seeds. He didn't seem to know any better. Since it wasn’t my seed swap I decided I should leave before I lost my cool and confronted the obnoxious seed purist. Then I witnessed a lady pull out the packet of ’Lumina’ pumpkin seeds. The first thing that caught my attention was the ghostly white skin of the pumpkin. The second thing I noticed was the “P.V.P” designation. Considering what had just transpired over an F1 hybrid I made the lady an offer for her seed pack and stuffed it into my jacket before anyone noticed what she was about to set on the table. Hopefully she didn't have any more P.V.P seed packs and she wouldn’t get publicly dressed down after I was gone.
What does P.V.P on the seed packs mean?
The Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Act was enacted to "encourage the development of novel varieties of sexually reproduced plants" by granting plant breeders with exclusive marketing rights for their creations in the United States. The act was enacted on December 24, 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts were made in the 1960's to enact something similar. There are certain requirements that a variety must meet in order to be certified, but once they are met the Certificate of Protection remains covers the plant for 18 years from the date it was issued.
As of summer 1992 there had been over 2,700 Certificates of Protection issued to over 1000 crops. Within 24 months of the filing the application 75% percent of those certificates had been issued. [source]
According to the Plant Variety Protection ACT FAQ produced by the Colorado State University Extension, "It is the responsibility of the seller to inform the buyer if a variety is protected. Seed containers should be labeled indicating the type of protection for which the owner has applied. If the owner of the variety has chosen to sell either uncertified or certified seed, the label should state "Unauthorized propagation prohibited--U.S. protected variety." This statement, or others similar to it as defined in the act, is sufficient notification of protection. If the seed is purchased in bulk, the appropriate statement should be printed on the bulk sales certificate."
The back of this 'Lumina’ seed packet reads, "P.V.P signifies that Lumina is protected by the Plant Variety Protection Act so producing the seed for sale without permission is illegal." Olds Garden Seed, who produced this seed packet, is following the letter of the law.
Who's down with P.V.P?!?!
If you're the kind of gardener who bristles at the mention of Monsanto and genetically modified organisms, chances are that plant varieties protected by patent don't sit well with you either. Although, as a gardener that likes new and interesting varieties of plants I can appreciate the need for plant breeders to be compensated and have their work protected. But patenting plants seems a little naughty; it is after all nature we're talking about. If you, as a home gardener, were to save seeds from a P.V.P the seed police wouldn't kick down your door and drag you away. There is also some leeway given to farmers that allows them to save some of the P.V.P seed produced by bulk seeds they buy.
How do you avoid P.V.P seeds?
The easiest way is not to buy seeds with are identified as P.V.P. Reputable seed sellers will clearly mark seed packs as illustrated above. But as the seed industry continues to shift towards selling seeds online this may be difficult unless you call your seed company and ask if the seed variety you're interested in is P.V.P protected.
While researching this post I came across Botanical Interests' online seed catalog listing for 'Lumina' pumpkin. Their webpage didn't indicate whether the seed was P.V.P protected or not. I called and spoke to Michelle in customer service just to make sure the patent hadn’t expired, withdrawn, or been abandoned. Michelle put me on hold while she consulted with their seed buyer and confirmed that it was still protected by P.V.P and said that the listing would be updated to reflect that.
Similarly, Burpee's listing for 'Lumina' pumpkin on their online seed catalog doesn't make mention of the seeds P.V.P protection. There are other seed sellers online who don't make mention of 'Lumina' being P.V.P protected, but since I've recently recommended these seed sellers I feel I should make mention of them specifically. Maybe it isn't that big of a deal, but I think that we, gardeners, should respectfully demand transparency from our seed sellers, and ask they give us the information we need so we can make informed decisions that coincide with our ideals. Furthermore, we should allow them the opportunity to correct oversights in their listings. When we know better we buy better.