Sunday, November 23, 2014

 by Julie Deering

Friday, June 13, 2014

Monsanto’s Jim Tobin Receives ASTA’s Lifetime Honorary Member Award

The American Seed Trade Association Recognized Jim Tobin of Monsanto with its Lifetime Honorary Member Award during its 131st Annual Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“This award is one of the highest awards given out by the association and is in recognition of untiring service to the association, as well as the seed industry,” said Craig Newman, ASTA chairman. “Jim has spent years on the ASTA Board of Directors and during the course of his career, he has been a tremendous leader for our association.”

Tobin leads Channel engagement for the Corporate Engagement Group at Monsanto. He is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with the grain and food industry. During Tobin’s 29-year career with Monsanto, he has served in numerous agricultural marketing and commercial development positions, including global product management, the global seed group, the seed business team, U.S. crop protection business and the cotton business. In 2008, Tobin joined the corporate affairs group.

During 2005/06, Tobin served as chairman of ASTA. Today, he is a trustee of the FarmHouse Foundation and Forest Park Forever. He is also a member of the Farm Foundation Roundtable and serves on the board of the U.S. Grains Council and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Tobin has served on the National 4-H Council and the Missouri 4-H Foundation.

“We all serve because someone asked us to,” Tobin said, referring to his positions with ASTA. “I had the opportunity to get involved and serve because someone asked me to. Today, I continue to ask others to serve to help benefit the industry.”

ASTA Recognizes Two Individuals with the 2014 Distinguished Service Award

Given to recognize those who have made significant contributions to the seed industry and the association, the American Seed Trade Association honored USDA’s June Blalock and Rijk Zwaan’s Rick Falconer this evening (June 13) with the 2014 Distinguished Service Award at the 131st Annual Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Blalock retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in April, after having served as the technology licensing program coordinator in the ARS Office of Technology Transfer for 21 years. She was responsible for managing all aspects of USDA’s intellectual property licensing program and developing and implementing USDA’s licensing policies and practices.

“June’s work, representing the United States, from a technical perspective, in the negotiations on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and her service on the Plant Variety Protection Advisory Committee have been an invaluable asset to the seed industry,” said Craig Newman, ASTA chairman. “Her unparalleled expertise on issues related to the transfer of technology for seeds will be sorely missed.”

Blalock said she couldn’t have done it without her team and credited the public-private partnership for her success. “Our partnership has benefited U.S. farmers, consumers and the general public,” she said.

Unlike Blalock, Falconer who serves as the managing director at Rijk Zwaan-USA will continue to participate and contribute to the seed industry. Born and raised on a Porterville, California, farm, Falconer has more than 25 years of experience in the seed industry.

“Recently, Rick was instrumental in filling a leadership role and supported and helped organize ASTA’s Vegetable & Flower Seed Conference in Monterey at a time when help was needed,” Newman said. “Rick’s leadership and support for ASTA and the seed industry has been a tremendous asset to the agricultural community.”

Falconer has served in leadership roles for multiple organizations, including past president for the California Seed Association and past chairman of ASTA’s Organic Seed Committee, Permanent Seed Research Fund and Vegetable and Flower Seed Division, he also currently serves as acting chair.  Falconer is a board member of the American Seed Research Foundation and the First-the Seed Foundation.

“Our ability to come together and work on issues benefits the state, national and international seed industry,” Falconer said. “I’m honored to serve and be a part of such a great industry.”

Marigolds for Eye Health

During the American Seed Trade Association’s 131st Annual Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, attendees learned about a marigold breeding project by Ball Horticultural Company that improves eye health.

“Basically, we took a plant that you could grow in your garden and we have bred it for an industrial purpose,” explained Alan Blowers, biotechnology project manager for Ball Horticultural Company. “ We can extract the pigment from the flowers and that pigment is used to supplement chicken feed, which gives broilers a nice yellow tone to the skin or a nice yellow tone to egg yolks.”

Today, Ball Horticultural Company harvests African marigolds that are used to make nutraceuticals for eye health. A little more than 20 years ago, clinical and primate studies began to show that two carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein, helped when it came to macular degeneration. “When people were given diets that were adjusted or deficient in those, you saw clear beneficial effects when those diets were supplemented with lutein and zeaxanthin,” Blowers said. “Then, the National Institute of Health funded eye studies, which substantiated those results.”

Evidence showed that lutein and zeaxanthin, found in marigolds — not beta-carotene, which is the dominant carotenoid in carrots — are necessary for optimal eye health.

Blowers, who has been working on the marigold project for 10 years, said they needed to tweak the genes and modify a particular pathway so the carotenoids could use used as a supplement.

“We wanted to modify the pathway in how the carotenoids are produced and the nature of the carotenoids that are produced,” Blowers said. “We knew that we could create the mutations that we needed and we knew that we could identify them in the genes. But you’re talking about disrupting some pretty major conserved pathways in the plants. We knew from literature that there could be some effects on the plants that could affect their field fitness. That’s why we were cognizant of the fact that the marigolds needed to be field worthy.”

Blowers’ team began their screening in the field. “If we had the right mutation, but it couldn’t survive in the field, it was of no interest to us,” he said.

Because the end product would be targeted for the natural products market, we felt the end product would be better accepted if it came from a natural breeding process versus a genetically engineered product, Blowers explained, noting that the time to get to market would also be much faster. “We took the path of least resistance,” he said.

Today, these marigolds are turned into supplements and are available under a wide range of private labels, according to Blowers.

“We can do some very innovative things in flower breeding,” Blowers said.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dow AgroSciences’ Chris Boomsma Named Future Giant of the Industry

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Today Seed World, in partnership with the Future Seed Executives of the American Seed Trade Association, recognized Chris Boomsma, Dow AgroSciences agronomic traits product characterization leader, with the 2014 Future Giant of the Seed Industry Award.

Each year, the Future Giant of the Seed Industry Award recognizes an early career individual who demonstrates a commitment to the seed industry and shows the potential to make a significant contribution to the industry.

“We had several outstanding nominations for this award,” said Seed World Editor Julie Deering, who presented the award in Indianapolis, Indiana. “While it was a very competitive pool of talent, Chris’s nomination quickly rose to the top.”

Boomsma is a graduate of Purdue University’s Ph.D program in agronomy. Upon completion, he went to work for Dow AgroSciences in 2009 as a crop physiologist and agronomist. During the past five years, he’s transitioned into the area of adaptation development leader and currently serves as agronomic traits product characterization leader.

Active in the American Society of Agronomy and the American Seed Trade Association, Boomsma is an ambassador for the industry. Today, he is working with a team to help develop and execute the company’s precision agriculture strategy.

“Research in the seed industry brings together low- and high-tech research tools, laboratory and field research settings, and the daily employment of both well-established and leading-edge scientific discoveries,” Boomsma says. “It’s a real privilege to work in this industry at this time.”

ASTA Elects New Officers

This morning (June 12, 2014) the membership of the American Seed Trade Association, at its 131st Annual Convention in Indianpolis, Indiana, elected officers for 2014/15.

Former ASTA chairman John Nelsen of RiceTec, Inc. announced the new slate of officer nominees:

  • John Schoenecker of HM. CLAUSE as chairman.
  • Risa DeMasi of Grassland Oregon as vice chairman.
  • Mark Herrmann of Monsanto Vegetable Seed Division as second vice chairman.
  • David Pearl of The CISCO Companies as Central regional vice president.
  • Perry Bohn of BASF as Southeastern regional vice president.
Following the announcement, the membership approved the nominees by vote. Schoenecker will serve as ASTA chairman for 2014/15. The elected regional vice presidents will serve a three-year term on the ASTA Board of Directors.

Purdue President Advocates for Technology and Partnerships

Today, two-term Indiana governor and president of Purdue University Mitch Daniels welcomed the American Seed Trade Association and its members to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the association’s 131st Annual Convention.

In doing so, Daniels talked about the history of the seed industry in Indiana and the importance of agriculture and research and development to the state’s economy. As Purdue president, Daniels is focused on further developing the university’s research and development initiatives in the areas of engineering and plant sciences.

“We need to have some breakthrough research,” Daniels said. “We need to be as good as anybody in the world when it comes to drug discovery and plant science.”

That’s why Purdue is in the beginning stages of planning a center for molecular agriculture that will work in partnership with the private industry, such as seed companies.

Investments in fundamental research will allow us to develop the technology to customize plants to meet emerging needs locally and across the globe, he said. Relevant technologies are quickly developing and we are well placed to be the academic world leader in adapting this technology to plant sciences, Daniels added.

He quickly highlighted the concept for an automated field phenotyping laboratory, where billions of field measurements for detailed assessment of important traits, such as canopy development, leaf area index, height and photosynthetic ability, can be measured.

“All of this will be done in great partnerships with companies like yours,” Daniels said.

Before giving up the stage, Daniels took the time to stress the importance of technology to agriculture and feeding the world. Referring to individuals and groups who oppose technologies, such as genetically modified organisms, he said “It’s borderline superstitious.”

“One can search in vein in scientific literature for any hazard of GMOs and like technologies,” Daniels said. “So that’s pretty odd all by itself.”

He explained that the number “feeding 9 billion people by 2050” is not a projected number that might happen; it’s a mathematical certainty.

“This fear of technology and apprehension is not new,” Daniels said, noting that historically, those who have feared or resisted the adoption of technology in the workplace were left behind or out of a job. “But this is an inversion. We have wealthy people who fear this technology saying ‘if you can’t eat, that’s your problem.’ This is a moral argument and that high ground needs to be seized and taken. It’s bogus to try and alarm people with these fictional stories. Those who oppose GMOs should be labeled as cruel, heartless and immoral with their anti- stories.”

Daniels explained given today’s technologies that are currently in use and the technologies that are coming down the pipeline that there’s no reason why the seed industry and agriculture in general can’t meet the grand challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 2:03PM

Today, the American Seed Trade Association kicked off its 131st Annual Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, with a focus on characteristics that make up large commercial producers.

Every five years, Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture conducts a large commercial producer survey, which measures how farmers make their decisions, how they prefer their information, buying preferences, customer loyalty and attitudes toward growth.

“This survey is important because production ag is changing and the marketplace is changing rapidly, says Brent Gloy, an associate professor in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics.

Gloy says it’s important to note that it’s not a one-size-fits all sector. “We need to have differentiated strategies for each farming sector — mid-size farmer, the commercial farmer and the larger farmer,” he says.

In the corn and soybean sector, large farmers are classified as having 5,000 and more acres. Of the 1,670 survey responses, 771 of them were corn and soybean growers.

When it comes to how large farmers make purchasing decisions with respect to seed, Gloy says that only 18 percent of your customer base always put price first.

“Farmers really care about product performance when it comes to seed,” he says. “Large farmers are way more focused on performance than the other categories of farmers surveyed. As we breakdown the responses and look at only large producers, the performance characteristic actually expands. Keep this in mind, large farmers are more performance driven than price driven.”

However, later in the session, Gloy noted that it might be because as large producers they’re not as concerned with getting the best price for seed because they expect it.

When looking at crop protection, survey data shows that 59.3 percent of all farmers are performance driven. “When you look at just the large farmer sector, 72 percent of them are focused on performance with price closely following,” Gloy says.

When the focus turns to the fertilizer sector, 17 percent of all farmers are relationship buyers, according to the survey. “This is the biggest segment focused on relationships,” Gloy says. “When you look at just the large farmers, about 10.2 percent of them are relationship buyers when it comes to purchasing fertilizers.”

Another point that was made during Gloy’s presentation is the average age of farmers. “Seed companies need to be looking at getting information to that next generation,” he says. Forty-five percent of farmers are between the ages of 55 and 69 and an additional 20 percent are age 70 and more. “Succession will have important implications for your relationships,” he says.


The American Seed Trade Association welcomed more than 300 individuals to Indianapolis, Indiana, today for its 131st Annual Convention where industry leaders and experts in the seed industry are meeting to learn about issues of concern.

This year’s conference theme is “Start Your Engines” and is geared around the Indy 500. To officially get things started, ASTA Chairman Craig Newman welcomed attendees and waved the green flag at the start of the first session, which highlighted results from Purdue University’s survey of large commercial farmers.

During the convention, attendees will discuss phytosanitary issues, trade barriers to the movement of seed, an organic seed database and intellectual property rights, among many other things. They’ll also hear from World Food Prize laureates Gebisa Ejeta and Philip Nelson, as well as Purdue University president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels.

Follow us on Twitter @SeedWorldMag or like us on Facebook at Seed World Magazine to stay up-to-date with what’s happening at the convention.

The Food Safety Pathogen Working Group convened at ASTA’s 131st Annual Convention to evaluate its statement summarizing the association’s position on seed as it relates to food safety.

The California Seed Association’s Betsy Peterson, who chairs the working group, says the group has been active since 2006. Through the working group, the seed industry closely monitors food safety pathogen outbreaks, evaluates and incorporates quality management systems and procedures into seed production programs where appropriate, and keeps abreast of ongoing research activities to help ensure that seed does not become exposed to, or contaminated with, human pathogens.

Peterson explains that seed that’s grown for planting in a field or greenhouse setting is not a threat; therefore, there’s no need for seed testing. Through its literature review, ASTA maintains that there is no significant value in requiring testing of seed lots for the presence of human pathogens and that such testing would not prevent future food illnesses emanating from produce.

However, Peterson says sprout seeds fall into a different category. “The way in which sprouts are grown is conducive for the growth of pathogens,” she says. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, through the Food Safety Modernization Act, agrees with this breakout and has included seeds for sprouts under the produce section, which is a different category than seed used for feed or grain.

“That basically supports what we’ve been saying all along,” Peterson says. “The FDA is trying to determine the sources of food safety pathogens so there’s been a lot of effort put toward this.”

Peterson reports that for the past six years, the Center for Produce Safety in California has been researching produce and food safety issues. “They look at irrigation, bees and flies, and people as potential sources,” she says. “They look at what’s transmitting the pathogens from the site of origin to the food.”

One of the biggest problems is raw food, Peterson says. She explains that when raw produce is consumed, the step in the food process that can kill any existing pathogens has been removed.

Peterson refers to remarks made by Jeri Barak, a University of Wisconsin plant pathologist, saying that as consumers, everyone has a role to play in food safety.

“If you went to the grocery store and purchased ice cream, you will think twice about making another stop on your way home,” she explains. “You need to treat spinach and other fresh produce the same way — it should maintain a temperature of no more than 40 degrees. We all have a roll to play in food safety.”

Individuals interested in getting involved in ASTA’s Food Safety Pathogen Working Group can participate at ASTA’s Annual Convention and the Vegetable and Flower Seed Conference or by contacting Peterson at CSA or Ric Dunkle at ASTA.




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