American Seed Trade Association
House Committee on Agriculture
June 29, 2000
Good morning. My name is Nathan Boardman, president of the American Seed Trade Association. I am also president of Crosbyton Seed Company, in Crosbyton, Texas. Crosbyton Seed Company annually provides approximately 25 percent of the hybrid sorghum seed planted by U.S. farmers and from 15 to 20 percent planted by Mexican farmers. Our success, Mr. Chairman has evolved from industry knowledge, sourcing diverse germplasm from our program, customer programs and public research.
We are a privately owned full service company offering breeding, research, production, quality testing and conditioning for hybrid grain sorghum, sudan, forage sorghum and pearl millet forage planting seeds. Like all members of the American Seed Trade Association, we believe strongly in innovation, patent protection, enforcement, and partnerships with our customers.
ASTA, as many of you know, is the leading national trade association charged with representing the interests of over 900 companies involved in seed production and distribution, plant breeding, and related industries. Our membership includes every type of seed from asparagus to zucchini, traditional agronomic crops like soybeans, corn, cotton and canola as well as seeds used by our ranchers for pastures and cover crops. Founded in 1883, ASTA is one of the oldest trade associations in the United States and has the privilege and responsibility of working on behalf of many small, large and in-between size seed companies here at home and around the world. Some 46 states are represented in the ASTA and countries around the world look to ASTA for leadership and vision.
Although ASTA has no position on the price of seed or other agricultural inputs, the association does have strong views on the importance of maintaining the strength and reliability of intellectual property protection for innovations in
agriculture, including seed, both in the United States and throughout the world. I would like to share with you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee the
perspective of the ASTA on factors that affect domestic and international trade and development of seed.
The U.S. seed industry has a long and successful history of working with American farmers to meet their needs for new and improved plant varieties. Seed companies’ efforts to develop and refine novel plant varieties have made a substantial contribution to the continued success of American agriculture. Increased yields and decreased dependence on synthetic herbicides are only two of the obvious benefits of the seed industry’s long-standing commitment to research and development.
The seed industry’s development of genetically enhanced varieties represents yet another success story for American agriculture and the ongoing partnership between seed companies and farmers. Genetically enhanced varieties have dramatically improved the productivity and competitiveness of American farmers. The work of our member company breeders, and the vision by the seed industry in general, have made these developments in seed technology possible.
Seed companies continue to shoulder the tremendous, up front costs involved in bringing new plant varieties to market based on the expectation that American intellectual property rights laws, and similar laws throughout the world, will protect their rights and assure a fair return on their investment. Just like businesses of all types, seed companies cannot afford to invest money and years of time expended by plant breeders with no assured return. Intellectual property rights laws provide our members, and all developers with the security and assurance they need to move forward.
In the U.S., the transparency and reliability of patent rights, and recent
amendments to the Plant Variety Protection Act, have been pivotal in encouraging seed companies to continue, and even expand, their investment in plant variety research and development. Although the international community has been somewhat slower to recognize the importance of strong intellectual
property laws in encouraging agricultural research and development, major advances have been made in recent years and are likely to continue. Indeed, the development and widespread adoption of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, (UPOV) to which the U.S. is a signator, illustrates that fact.
In addition, seedsmen here at home and around the world participate in a number of organizations, including the International Seed Trade Federation and ASSINSEL, an international plant breeders association. ASTA takes full advantage of providing leadership and perspective, as well as a comprehensive vision as the two groups seek to adopt consistent and transparent intellectual property laws throughout the world. An important note in this area Mr. Chairman is the strong advocacy role of the ASTA and its members. Also worth mentioning is the strong sensitivity to and obligation to providing farmers with the necessary genetics to maintain a competitive edge and responsible stewardship. It is through this leadership and support by way of model laws, advice and counsel, and tailored tours to governments and new seed trade associations around the world that ASTA is most effective and committed.
ASTA believes that the benefits of strong intellectual property protections for innovations in seed and seed technology are known and appreciated here at home. Producers, anxious to ensure a continued stream of new and improved plant varieties, supported the 1994 amendments to the Plant Variety Protection Act. ASTA’s allies in the effort to amend the PVP Act included the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Cotton Council.
Despite this recognition of intellectual property rights critical role in maintaining the competitiveness of American agriculture, some are now contemplating a “roll back” in intellectual property rights protections to address what ASTA understands is a frustrating situation for many producers. Continued drought and historically low prices at the farm gate are depressing farm income. At the same time, the failure of certain foreign government to enforce intellectual property rights laws with respect to seed, and a corresponding willingness to
tolerate “black markets” has led to some foreign farmers paying lower prices for certain genetically enhanced varieties than American farmers. A Government Accounting Office report, published earlier this year, describes Argentina’s failures in this regard and the effects of that failure on the price of Roundup Ready soybean seeds in Argentina.
The American farmer and our friends that represent them are not the only ones frustrated and angry. The situation in Argentina and in other countries that fail to enforce intellectual property rights laws, thereby depressing seed prices is
enormously disappointing to ASTA and all of our members. As I have discussed, ASTA has worked, and continues to work, very hard, Mr. Chairman for the adoption and enforcement of a harmonious, reliable, and transparent body of intellectual property rights protection for seed worldwide.
Modifications to U.S. intellectual property rights in seed and seed technology, however, are not an appropriate solution to this difficult situation. Seed constitutes a relatively small portion of farm costs, and a roll back in intellectual property protection would, at best, only marginally reduce farm outlays. Moreover, such roll backs would have very damaging, long term effects on the competitiveness of American agriculture. We have seen Mr. Chairman, that without much needed return on investments in research and development, companies do re-structure programs and in isolated, but documented instances, abandon projects. One need only look to programs that once promised much in the way of varietal development for hard red winter wheat and cotton.
Mr. Chairman, ASTA participated at the request of the General Accounting Office to compile information on Roundup Ready technology, as it related to access and intellectual property rights protection for American farmers and those in Argentina. The report revealed disturbing violations and gaps in intellectual property rights protection in Argentina, and ASTA immediately began working with seed industry counterparts in that country. ASTA also stepped up efforts and discussions with the American Soybean Association, Members of Congress and Administration officials to maintain a proper focus on the importance of harmonized and transparent policies that affect intellectual property rights. The challenge remains, but ASTA remains diligent in focusing on rectifying this unfair trade barrier and obstacle for plant breeders and farmers alike.
Finally, Mr. Chairman I must mention that in a week that celebrated the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome project, we in the seed industry firmly believe that it is this type of partnership and long-term vision that will ultimately enable all of us in the seed industry to continue moving forward. It is that awareness and appreciation for protecting intellectual property rights that will allow us to do our job today and most importantly, tomorrow.