The 133rd annual convention of the American Seed Trade Association was a resounding success on all accounts. Here are some of the highlights.
The American Seed Trade Association’s annual convention held June 18 to 22 in Portland, Ore., was a big draw for the seed industry this year. Just over 470 people took part — the largest attendance for the event since ASTA’s 125th anniversary celebration at the 2008 annual convention.
“It was a great success this year,” says ASTA’s CEO and president Andy LaVigne, adding that the large turnout could be attributed in part to the fact the event was a joint convention with the Oregon Seed Association and took place in one of the nation’s largest seed-producing areas.
“It was a good show of collaboration with quite a bit of mutual overlap of membership between the two organizations,” says LaVigne. “Being able to come together with their leadership and the ASTA leadership and talk about our issues jointly was a huge benefit to the industry.”
Among the attendees was Mike Gumina, a former ASTA chair and the association’s representative on the International Seed Federation board. He agrees ASTA and OSA did an exceptional job with the joint conference.
“It was extremely well done,” says Gumina, the lead executive for the hybrid rice company RiceTec AG based in Texas. “They really shared the entire stage and coordinated it extremely well together. I thought that was great.”
LaVigne notes these are interesting times for the seed industry, another factor that fueled attendance for this year’s convention. With key issues such as biological seed treatments, gene editing and other evolving plant breeding techniques dominating discussions in seed circles these days, “I think because of that people wanted to be around the table to talk about the industry going forward,” he says.
Numerous committee meetings and working group activities focusing on such areas as conservation and environment, seed, messaging, communications and plant breeding innovation were held during the conference. There were also a number of breakout sessions with speakers addressing issues like new GMO labeling legislation and how the latest plant breeding technologies fit into current regulatory frameworks.
Krysta Harden, vice president of public policy and chief sustainability officer for Dupont and a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided one of the conference highlights with her keynote speech.
“She focused on the importance of developing a relationship with our elected officials and decision-makers, making sure we are the ones they call on when issues impacting the seed and agriculture industry are deciding on legislation and policy,” says LaVigne. “It was very well-received.”
Gumina agrees that Harden’s message resonated with the seed industry. “She did a great job talking about what I would call outreach and engagement around seed trade issues and being able to tell our story to the public and to the regulators, so that we don’t get overshadowed by those naysayers who might want to put us in a different light,” he says.
Awarding the Industry’s Best
Gumina himself was in the spotlight in Portland when he picked up one of the ASTA awards handed out during the conference. He received ASTA’s Lifetime Honorary Membership Award, given out in recognition of tireless service to the association as well as the seed industry.
Gumina, who was selected by outgoing ASTA chair Risa DeMasi and who himself named renowned seed entrepreneur Sonny Beck as the recipient of the same award during his term as ASTA chair, says he was extremely honored.
“It’s humbling to receive this kind of an award, especially because I know a lot of the people in the industry and there are so many others who are deserving of something like this. For [DeMasi] to pick me out, I think was extremely gracious and I just really appreciated it,” he says.
“From my point of view, these kinds of awards are a validation of a body of work that’s been done perhaps over decades. And that for me brings a lot of gratification.”
Larry Nees, who retired in May after 36 years as the seed control official for Indiana, received ASTA’s Distinguished Service Award. During his many years with the Office of the Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner, Nees was responsible for enforcement and administration of the Indiana Seed Law, the Indiana Seed Arbitration Law, the Indiana Legume Inoculants and Plant Growth Substances Law, and the Inspections Under Seed Contracts Law.
“I’m just very honored to receive something like this,” says Nees. “It makes me feel very good to know they found some value in what I did and what I contributed to the seed industry over those years.”
The biggest honor went to Owen Newlin. He received the first-ever Lifetime Industry Achievement Award handed out by ASTA, which acknowledges exceptional professionals whose career contributions to the seed industry span more than 50 years.
Retired from Pioneer, Newlin is a long-time ambassador for Iowa State University, has served on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and is a past president and current board member of the American Seed Research Foundation. He’s also ASTA’s longest serving past president and is still an active board member with the association.
“I just can’t say enough about Owen,” says LaVigne. “He’s always been just a huge advocate for ASTA and the activities of the association, truly looking to contribute whatever he could, whenever he could. He doesn’t slow down.”
During the meeting, ASTA elected its 2016-17 officer team which will continue to drive the association’s five-year strategic plan, focusing strongly on advocacy, efficiency of operations, and internal and external communications.
Mark Herrmann, president and CEO of AgReliant Genetics, is the new ASTA chair, moving up from the position of first vice chair. Tracy Tally, owner of Justin Seeds, is now the association’s first vice chair, after serving as second vice chair. Jerry Flint, vice president, regulatory affairs at DuPont Pioneer, is the new second vice chair.
During his acceptance speech, Herrmann vowed to continue ASTA’s strong commitment to be the voice of the American seed industry, to have an open and ongoing dialogue between members and leadership, and to have efficient internal operations to ensure the association is prepared to address whatever issues or threats emerge in the future.
“The seed industry today faces both unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” says Herrmann. “Whether it’s the threat of regulatory uncertainty, international issues impacting the movement of seed, or simply a lack of understanding from the public about the importance of the work we do, it’s never been more important that we proactively drive a strong and unified industry to address the issues we will face in the future.”
ASTA’s 134th annual convention will be held June 21-24, 2017, in Minneapolis, Minn.