Seed World

20 Most Influential People in the European Seed Sector in 2018

Dear readers of European Seed,

Who made a difference in the European seed sector in 2018? I am sure there are many names that come top-of-mind in all sectors, levels and branches of our industry. Rightly so, as many people should be recognized for their contributions and hopefully their organizations give them their due. However, some individuals jump out as having a bigger impact, and those are the people who caught our eye. And with our annual list of the ’20 Most Influential’, we’re trying to put the spotlight on exactly those movers and shakers.

One big difference from our list last year is that for this edition, we were able to rely entirely on nominations that we received from all of you. This shows that the list is gaining traction towards the goal it was designed for: generating more discussion, more engagement and above all, more appreciation for the seed sector.

Last year’s list was a great success, and can be found here. Our list was received very well, with many congratulatory replies and good feedback. On social media, the article was widely shared and comments we received from last year’s list helped in compiling this year’s list. Our 20 Most Influential honourees appreciated the article and how it gave a voice to their projects, research, organizations and causes. Seeing the many interactions, we have certainly succeeded in our goals in terms of recognition and conversation.

Just like last year, you will again find a few lines of text per influential person, explaining in a nutshell what their key contribution(s) have been in the past year, and why that person should be on the list. Like last year, you will see that our nominees are not only from the private sector, but also many from the public sector, i.e. policy makers, that have made a lasting impact on the seed sector.

And of course, there will always be people who you think should have been on the list, and question why others were omitted. We very much welcome and look forward to any feedback you wish to share. This list will come out on a yearly basis, and herewith you have standing invitation to share your feedback as to who you think should have been on the list, and why.

Marcel Bruins

The 20 Most Influential People in 2018 in the European Seed Sector (in alphabetical order)

Léon Broers – Board member of KWS SAAT SE

 width=Léon is a plant breeder through and through. After his PhD in plant breeding from Wageningen University, he focused on breeding small grain cereals in Mexico, and vegetable breeding in The Netherlands. He joined KWS in 2007 as member of the board, responsible for global R&D. He realizes that climate ,a, limited resources and higher productivity requirements are making breeding more complex and he is a strong proponent of innovation in plant breeding, including new breeding methods. Léon has been very vocal on this topic, sharing the latest breeding methods, such as how genome editing can make an important contribution to a more sustainable agriculture. They will allow breeders to more rapidly achieve breeding goals, such as improved plant resistance to diseases, pests and abiotic stresses.

Peter Button– Vice Secretary-General of UPOV

 width=Since taking the helm at UPOV in 2010, Peter has overseen the expansion of UPOV coverage from 71 to 94 countries worldwide, with new members (7) from Africa, Europe and Latin America. Five existing UPOV members also moved to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention. He has always been adamant that intellectual property protection is crucial to achieve maximum benefits for agriculture from plant breeding. Peter strives to bring together compelling information, from various sources, on how the UPOV system of plant variety protection(PVP) has been effective. He is the driving force behind the development of UPOV PRISMA, the online tool which helps breeders to make PVP applications with participating UPOV members. This will greatly facilitate the challenging process of protecting plant varieties around the world and will increase the possibilities for farmers to have access to better varieties.

Paolo DE CASTRO – Vice Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) in the EU Parliament

 width=Paolo De Castro has been a member of the European Parliament since July 2009. He chaired the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development from 2009 to 2014, leading the European Parliament’s negotiating team during the reform process of the Common Agricultural Policy for the 2014/2020 period. He also inspired and coordinates the Parliamentary Alliance “Fight against Hunger”, which engages a group of Members of the European Parliament to develop proposals and actions to raise awareness and sharing ideas on food security. In the past few years, Paolo has been arguing the EU should embrace innovation more in order to boost food production and further cut the environmental impact of farming. He has stated that new plant breeding techniques are a unique opportunity to move toward more sustainable agriculture and simultaneously meet EU consumers’ demands. Paolo strongly feels the techniques will be crucial in the challenge to ensure enough, safe and quality food is available for all.

Truels Damsgaard – CEO of DLF Seeds

 width=For 35 years, Truels has been committed to the international seed industry. At DLF, he has built up a strong international presence and, since taking over as CEO in 2006, Truels has been the driving force behind the developments of the company. The company is now the world’s leading marketeer of cool-season clover and grass seed species, a leading player in sugar beet seed, has a strong presence in the vegetable seed business, as well as a foothold within the seed potato world. Under Truels’ leadership, DLF has expanded immensely through acquisitions and the establishment of new subsidiaries allowing the company to gain a stronger foothold in other continents. Truels is well known in the international seed industry and assumed the position of President of the International Seed Federation (ISF) from 2010 – 2012.

François Desprez, Chairman of Maison Florimond Desprez


Francois has been the Chairman of the French family company Florimond Desprez for more than 20 years, remaining among the leading companies for cereals in Europe. The company also leads in unprecedented development, with the acquisition of SESvanderHave in sugar beet seeds and Germicopa in potatoes, as well as with the total turnover of the group. Beyond those significant business successes, behind the scenes Francois is one of the most respected specialists of the seed sector, and his insights are highly valued and considered a reference. Consequently, he has many responsibilities in different decision bodies in Europe, e.g. as the President of GNIS and SICASOV in France or member of the ESA Board.

Eduard Fito – President of the International Seed Federation (ISF)

 width=Eduard is Director of Corporate Affairs and Business Development at Semillas Fito where he has held a number of roles since 1994. Between 2002 and 2012, Eduard took on various roles in the company, developing the vegetables and field crop business. Since 2018, he has been the President of the ISF, where he has been adamant about respect for intellectual property (IP), which is paramount for the seed industry to thrive. This may mean to change the way the seed sector makes money by embedding IP in its business models. He strongly feels that respect for IP, together with freeing the way for innovation by all players — local, multinational and public sector — will achieve the ISF goal of providing quality seeds to every single farmer on the planet. In addition to his role as ISF President, Eduard is also a board member of the Spanish Seed Association (ANOVE) and of theAnti-Infringement Bureau (AIB).

Regis Fournier – CEO of MAS Seeds

 width=In 2018, Regis completed the transformation of Maisadour Semences into MAS Seeds underlining its position as an international seed company with activities not only in corn but also sunflower, oilseed rape and alfalfa and many others. Over the last decade, Regis significantly developed its business, by expanding its territory in the Center East EU countries and Ukraine, among others. Regis is part of a young generation of seed leaders in Europe, and in recognition of his activities, he recently took over the role of President of the ESA. Prior to that he had been very active in the French Seed Association UFS, one he has chaired since 2013.

Cary Fowler, Special Advisor (and former Executive Director) at the Global Crop Diversity Trust

 width=Cary’s career in the conservation and use of crop diversity spans 30 years. Prior to joining the Crop Trust, he was Senior Advisor to the Director General of Bioversity International. In that role, he represented the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in negotiations on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. He oversaw the UN’s first assessment of the state of the world’s crop genetic resources, and its first global plan of action adopted by 150 countries. Cary played a key role in the creation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. He headed the international committee that assessed the feasibility of establishing a seed vault, developed its scientific and operational plan and has been a central figure in virtually every aspect of its development from the beginning, including serving as chair of its International Advisory Council. Plant breeding and the seed sector cannot survive without crop diversity. Dr. Fowler’s activities have ensured the conservation of plant genetic resources for present and future generations.

Neal Gutterson – Chief Technology Officer for Corteva AgriscienceTM, agriculture division of DowDuPont™

 width=Neal leads the research and development of all plant varieties and traits, crop protection products and predictive agriculture systems to create innovative agricultural products, services and integrated solutions for producers around the world in his role. Neal is a keen promoter of science-based policy making and has been speaking up for dialogue in plant breeding innovation in Europe for many years. Neal is behind the launch of the Open Innovation initiative in his company and is committed to being transparent and proactive about CRISPR and how it is being used to develop innovation and find solutions in the future. Neal has been talking with a wide array of partners in the food industry, listening to public reaction and engaging with multiple stakeholders. He personally participated in key media initiatives in Europe and wrote op-ed articles published in European media. Neal truly has a great positive influence on the European and global agriculture landscape.

Geoffrey Hawtin – founding Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

 width=Geoff Hawtin is a world-renowned authority in the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources. Besides founding the Global Crop Diversity Trust in 2004, he has also been Director General of two CGIAR institutes: Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). He was also Deputy Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), where he started his career as a food legume breeder. He strongly feels that fostering genetic diversity is crucial to mankind’s future and has highlighted the importance of ex-situ conservation in protecting and using this diversity. He has been an indefatigable champion for agricultural biodiversity in general and genebanks in particular and has provided years of exemplary and visionary leadership to the plant genetic resources community. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific and technical publications.

Anke van den Hurk – Deputy Director at the Dutch seed association, Plantum

 width=Anke has been active in the seed sector for many years. Among other things, she represents the sector in a multitude of complex international debates on biodiversity conservation and access and benefit sharing. She started that in 2001, long before most seedsmen considered the policy area relevant. One of her many achievements is that she spearheaded the development of a manual and interactive tool to better understand the Nagoya Protocol on genetic resources. As deputy director of Plantum, responsible for international affairs, she also connects the Dutch sector with the regional associations in Asia and Africa.

Dirk Inzé – Science Director at VIB and Professor Plant Physiology and Molecular Biology at Ghent University

 width=Dirk is a plant molecular biologist at the VIB (Life Sciences Institute in Flanders, Belgium) and professor at Ghent University in Belgium. In 2002, he became scientific director of the world famous VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology. He is one of the world’s most cited authors and his research has significantly contributed to safeguard food security. He was awarded numerous prizes, including: the Körber European Science Prize; the Francqui Prize on Biological and Medical Sciences; the five yearly FWO excellence prize; and in 2017 he received the World Agriculture Prize. In addition to having promoted innovation for years in his leading capacity at the VIB, Dirk has led the coalition of over 90 scientific institutions following the EU court ruling on mutagenesis,asking for a new regulatory framework that evaluates new crop varieties based on science.

Petra Jorasch, Manager Plant Breeding & Innovation Advocacy at the European Seed Association (ESA)

 width=Petra joined ESA in February 2017 as the spokesperson of the EU plant breeding sector on modern plant breeding methods and innovative technologies, and she is also in charge of the ESA Working Group Plant Breeding Innovation. The regulation on the plants developed using new breeding methods dominated much of the seed related news channels in the past few years, and Petra, with her dedication and positive attitude, has continued to inspire the sector to create awareness and communicate the benefits of plant breeding innovation. She has been at the basis of the ‘Embracing Nature’ communication campaign, with daily outreach on social media channels. Petra has been tirelessly arguing in favour of the use of the latest breeding methods, to ensure food quality, to reduce crop losses in the field and food waste, and to address tomorrow’s food challenges.

Casper van Kempen, Managing Director of the Anti-Infringement Bureau

 width=Through the work for the AIB, Casper has been raising awareness of intellectual property (IP) and illegal seeds through an expert network providing training and enforcement services to help members address suspected illegalities. The first plant raisers which engaged in illegal vegetative reproduction of high value vegetables were brought to justice and condemned to prison terms. His actions absolutely have had a deterrent effect on any ‘would be’ infringers.In certain countries, AIB focussed on creating IP awareness, and to help companies in taking steps fighting infringements. Casper raised awareness on the weakness of IP laws and the lack of an enforceable framework of IP laws and regulations. He has urged companies to take proactive measures to prevent rampant trade secret misappropriation by a supply chain security.

Thor Gunnar Kofoed– Chairman of the European Farmers & Agri-Cooperatives Organization COPA and COGECA Working Party on Seeds

 width=In this position Thor has argued repeatedly that genetic crop improvements in EU agriculture can provide huge environmental benefits at the same time as protecting crops against pests and diseases and delivering substantial benefits to the economy. Europe’s restrictive policy on plant breeding innovation is detrimental in Europe’s efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition. In addition to his position at COPA and COGECA, for the past 25 years, Thor has been the chairman of the Danish Seed Council and is currently the Vice President of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. On top of that, he is also chairman of the Food & Agriculture Seed Section, TystofteFonden, the European Seed Growers Group and member of different national and international boards and working parties.

Marco van Leeuwen– Managing Director at Rijk Zwaan
 width=Marco has been the MD at Rijk Zwaan since 2009. Under the leadership of Marco and his fellow board members Kees Reinink and Ben Tax, the company has undergone a steady growth. He explains the success of his company comes from its people-minded company culture, in which employee participation creates an even greater commitment. Each year, the company invests approximately 30 per cent of its financial turnover in R&D, and applies a strategy for growth, which is realized autonomously, without acquisitions. He is very passionate that, with his company and its partners, he wants to provide a strong contribution towards global food security with healthy vegetables. Besides his position at Rijk Zwaan, Marco is also chairman of the Anti-Infringement Bureau, which main aim it is to prevent and fight infringements of the intellectual property rights of the vegetable seed sector. Moreover, he is currently a member of the Board of Directors of ISF as well as board member in the section of vegetables and ornamentals.

Emmanuel Lesprit – Head of Plant Breeding Unit at the French Seed Union (Union Française des Semenciers – UFS)

 width=Within UFS, Emmanuel is also the head of the Vegetables and Ornamentals Department. Emmanuel has dedicated all his career to the seed sector, from breeding to quality and safety risk management. Besides his role in UFS, he has been representing the seed sector at both national and European levels and is the coordinator and facilitator for several member working groups. Emmanuel also chaired the ESA Plant Health working group until end of 2018. Emmanuel has realized that communicating about innovation is crucial in the seed sector and he is known for his excellent way to get technical information across in an engaging manner.

Vicente Navarro – Senior Vice President of BASF Vegetable Seeds


Since 2013, Vicente is also chairman of the vegetable & ornamental crops section (SVO) of the International Seed Federation (ISF), besides his role in BASF as Senior Vice President of the vegetable seeds business since April 2019. In his ISF role, he spearheaded the launch of a project which explores the potential of a Systems Approach, based on ISPM-38 to be multilaterally adopted by NPPOs as an alternative to existing PRM (pest risk management) options. As chairman he has brought a lot of passion to the discussions and is well known to foster dialogue in the SVO. In addition, he has been raising awareness on illegal vegetative propagation and IP infringement in the WG Vegetable Seed Production and co-authored the APSA-ISF Paper on best practices. Since the beginning he raised awareness among the seed industry on the need to preserve its license to operate and proactively explain its contribution to society and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Vicente has a profound knowledge of the seed industry and played a key role in the Monsanto acquisition and later on in the Bayer-BASF transfer operation.

Beat Späth – Director for Agricultural Biotechnology at EuropaBio


As Director for Agricultural Biotechnology at EuropaBio, Beat has helped the association progress as the leading advocate for agricultural biotechnology and GMOs in Europe. In a year that has been packed with EU initiatives and decisions that could profoundly impact the seed sector, Beat has led efforts to highlight the need for science-based and ethical risk assessment procedures for GMOs and for decision makers to ‘vote with the science’ rather than against it. He has also been a vocal proponent for eliminating unnecessary, mandatory animal feeding studies from EU GMO assessment requirements. Cornerstone of his efforts is the emphasis on the importance of science-based decision-making by all institutions and Member States, as well as the need for efficient risk assessment.

Antonio Villaroel – Secretary General of the Spanish Plant Breeders Association ANOVE

 width=For over 20 years, Antonio has been working for the plant breeding and seed industry. He is a strong believer in the power of intellectual property, and has assumed several important roles on the topic, including in the Intellectual Property Committee of the International Seed Federation, where he chairs the Working Group on “Illegal Seed Practices”. Besides his work for ANOVE, he is also the Managing Director of GESLIVE, the organization created by breeders operating in Spain to provide licensing, royalty collection and enforcement services, defending the rights of more than 1,500 plant varieties and 100 registered brands. Besides these roles, he is also Vice President of the Technological Platform of Sustainable Agriculture, Professor at the PONS Foundation and was recently appointed as treasurer and member of the ESA Executive Committee. Antonio is a great team player, has a positive attitude that fosters brainstorming, likes thinking out of the box and is a great motivator for communications.