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Seed industry faces patent expiration and expanding population

Increasing hunger, a shrinking land base, fewer renewable resources, an increasing global population, patent expiration and coexistence are all issues facing the seed industry.

All sectors of the seed industry convened for the American Seed Trade Association’s 128th Annual Convention June 18-22, in Huntington Beach, Calif., to create solutions and shape policy, paving the road ahead.

“Today, we face tremendous challenges,” says John Nelsen, ASTA chairman and president and chief executive officer of RiceTec, Inc. “These challenges are technical, complex and mind-boggling, but they are of utmost importance because they affect you and me and generations to come.”

Increasing hunger, a shrinking land base, fewer renewable resources, an increasing global population, patent expiration and coexistence are all issues on Nelsen’s list. These are the challenges that drive business decisions, he says.

The Alvin, Texas, chairman says ASTA is working on many fronts to help find solutions to these very complex issues.

He told attendees that ASTA, through its First-the Seed Foundation, is working to educate today’s youth and tomorrow’s consumer about the importance of the seed industry and the role technology has to play.

“ASTA encourages innovation and technology and facilitates the movement of seed at the state, national and international levels,” Nelsen says. “At the state and national levels ASTA works to build and maintain relationships, while monitoring and influencing policy that could potentially help or hinder the seed industry. This allows you to conduct business as usual without undue burden.”

This year alone, he says ASTA conducted 150 congressional visits and monitored 65 bills that would have had a direct impact on the seed industry.

“The seed industry knows that coexistence is not only feasible, but has been successfully practicing it for decades,” Nelsen says. “ASTA’s Executive Committee met with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, listened to his concerns and discussed ASTA’s role in helping the agricultural industry move forward on this issue.”

He highlights that ASTA and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) developed a set of principles, which will be distributed to Vilsack and USDA; updated the Guide to Seed Quality Management to include coexistence language; and wrote a white paper on current industry practices.

Generic seed

Nelsen notes the expectation of a generic seed market and the complexities around this issue are at the forefront of the association’s activities to help ensure farmers continued access to international markets and quality seed.

“Currently, we are again working with BIO to create an accord, a binding agreement to transfer data packages between the original patent holder and those utilizing the event once it goes off patent,” he says. “A guidance document is also being developed to help companies who are considering entering the ‘generic’ market, in addition to outreach and educational documents focusing on regulatory obligations and responsibilities, and the intellectual property of seed.”

At the international level, Nelsen says ASTA educates others about the importance of intellectual property and quality seed for increased germination rates and increased yields.

Also at the international level, Nelsen tells attendees that ASTA is working to harmonize seed standards to ultimately result in an international seed standard. This year, ASTA succeeded in obtaining bilateral agreements with the EU, which is a 28-nation agreement, addressing seed re-export.

“These agreements are a monumental step forward and set the stage for an international seed standard and ensure consistency in the movement of seed across borders -- creating a better, more reliable global seed industry,” Nelsen says. “These are truly successes that can only be accomplished when we work together as a team and look for opportunities to partner with other businesses, associations, agencies, and governments, relying on aggregate expertise for an outcome sure to surpass expectations.

“ASTA is diligent in identifying practical, science-based solutions and presenting them to government representatives with our global partners to bring about the results our businesses need.”

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