With seed poised to meet the food shortage challenge, many of the experts in this year’s Giant Views of the Industry had interesting stories to tell about staying competitive and capitalizing on opportunity. Enjoy some of the highlights of their news and insights.
“The education of our dealers and distributors, as well as the education of our customers, is critical. Some of this will get simpler as we move to refuge-in-a-bag and the various products and refuges are all going to be included. We’ll get away from, ‘is this a five percent, 10 percent or 20 percent refuge and what configurations and which products go together?’ because we’re going to have them blended into the bag for that. But between now and then, there’s going to be a need to educate our staff and our customers well so they provide the correct refuges with the correct herbicide choices in order to maximize both the protection of the trait as well as the opportunity for the grower.”—Tom Burrus of Burrus Hybrids
GM Veggies: Fact or Fiction?
“If you look near-term I would say the prospects [of GM veggies entering the marketplace] are not very good. I think there will continue to be strong resistance to GM technology in vegetables. Longer-term it very likely will occur—beyond five or 10 years I think we’ll be looking at GM products in the market. Of course they will only likely be introduced based on strong consumer demand—so maybe tying back to the nutritional aspect or some other compelling trait that the average consumer would demand. That would probably then open up acceptance for GM vegetables, but near-term I don’t think it’s going to advance very quickly.”—Dave Armstrong of Sakata America
A Lawyer’s Advice on IP Protection
“I think one [way to avoid problems with IP] is to become educated about where the pitfalls are, where the dangers are, so breeders and seed companies can protect themselves and not get into trouble. And then when they come to me, I learn what they are doing and look at whether it is going to potentially cause them any legal problems or not. Mainly, however, breeders or seed companies come to me because they want to protect their own intellectual property. In that case, we need to do an assessment of that intellectual property space—we have to see what it is that they invented and whether or not there are already other people out there claiming that same invention or a similar one—and then try to figure out a path forward. The big question to answer is how they can claim what is unique to what they discovered so they can protect it.”—Erich Veitenheimer of Cooley LLP
ASTA’s Strategic Plan
“In 2011-12, the American Seed Trade Association is building a strategic five-year plan that will replace the one we’re using today. I think it is an exciting opportunity for us to say what is important to our industry, what’s important to our members, what’s important to agriculture and how we can play into that … We’re going to focus on intellectual property rights. There will also be a big focus on government relations, both at the government and the state levels. International policy will continue to be a big part of what ASTA does so that we can have a voice. We’re the largest seed exporter in the world and we need to have a voice on how the international policies work. We’re going to have to figure out how to make our membership happy, how to grow our membership and how to serve them in a very positive way. We’re [also] going to focus on the business of the association, making sure we’re using our funds in the most advantageous way, and making sure we have the staff capabilities and capacities to serve our industry.”—Mike Gumina of Pioneer Hi-Bred and chairman of ASTA
What is INCOTEC’s new ThermoSeed technology? “ThermoSeed is a unique innovative treatment for effective control of seed-borne pathogens by the use of hot humid air. Making seeds clean is the future and it will become an industry standard as a preventative measure. We are very excited about it. We can treat seed from 15 tonnes/hour to a few hundred kilos/hour, and [we can treat everything] from flower and vegetable seed to cereals, so it’s a very broad range of seeds that we are now introducing to this technology on a global level. The other development is our seed selection system using X-ray technology, where we look inside each seed—a computer looks at the picture and indicates whether the embryo is going to develop into a good plant. There are four machines up and running this year at INCOTEC, running 24/7 selecting tomato seeds one by one, and that’s quite innovative technology.”—JanWillem Breukink of INCOTEC
Hire Smart People!
What is Burrus Hybrids’ key to success? “We’ve hired capable people. One of my bylines is that we hire people smarter than we are. And we’re pleased to do that. This allows us to nurture them so they can challenge us and move the company forward. Also, take advantage of your advantages. One of our [advantages] is that we own land. We’ve irrigated as much of it as we can, which gives us an insurance policy against drought and heat. We have control over our own facilities, so we’ve [maintained] those to the highest-quality standards, the best known equipment to man. And then we use an interplant system in our seed production, which is kind of unique to the industry, but it provides better pollination and reduces adventitious pollen.”—Tom Burrus of Burrus Hybrids
How can the sustainability of seed treatments be improved? “Seed treatment has a very good name from an environmental perspective, as it uses very few chemicals and is very close to where it needs to work so there isn’t much chemistry that goes without any affect. Nevertheless, we need to work on sustainability in a good way. If we want to make seed treatment a technology for the future, for the long-term, sustainability in terms of application technology and professionalism of application, we still need to do a lot to make that work around the world. In some places this is already at a high level, but in some places we still need improvement. I take this as a task for all seed treatment providers to help seed companies, distributors and retailers, but also on-farm users, to increase that professionalism, to help them help us to make seed treatment a sustainable technology for the future.”—Christoph Goppelsroeder of Syngenta Seedcare
Rise of Regulation
“We are a very regulated industry today, especially with the biotech products, maybe even somewhat with the organic products as well. And I see that regulatory process actually accelerating over time. Agriculture, in my opinion, could be seen more and more as a utility rather than some kind of romantic way of doing business. And as the seed industry gets viewed by the rest of the country as more of an industry, as we get viewed as more of a critical part of the overall structure of our country, I can anticipate that there will be more regulation. Therefore, this regulatory piece is absolutely a big change for us. The technology is huge, and part of that technology requires us to have brighter people to make decisions faster and smarter, and to really upgrade ourselves in the overall capability capacity of our industry.”—Mike Gumina of Pioneer Hi-Bred and chairman of ASTA
Independents Still Seed Champions
“I think the biggest strength of independent seed companies is their local area knowledge. The big companies have huge resources that they apply over broad areas of geography. I think when you really get down to it the matching of the products and technology to the local geographies and environments is again one more key to success that the regional company can do easier and better then some of
the big companies.”—Tom Burrus of Burrus Hybrids
From Breeder to Lawyer
“I spent part of my childhood growing up and working on a vegetable farm on the eastern shore of Maryland. I received a Bachelor of Agronomy from Washington State University during which I worked for USDA in lentil and chickpea breeding. Then I went to the University of Madison in Wisconsin and received a doctorate in plant breeding and plant genetics with a minor in statistics. I worked for DeKalb/Pfizer Genetics as a biostatistician and corn breeder for about eight years. Wanting to take my career in a different direction, I became a primary examiner in plant biotechnology at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I was one of the first plant breeders they had in the office and it was an exciting time. I started law school at Georgetown while I was an examiner and eventually in the mid-90s spun out into law firms, where I’ve been ever since.”—Erich Veitenheimer of Cooley LLP