Seed World

Promoting ‘Better Seed for Better Life’

Successfully delivering innovation to farmers’ fields is goal #1 for Fan-Li Chou, ASTA’s Senior Vice President of Scientific Affairs and Policy. 

SW: Do you feel like the seed industry is making steps forwards or backwards in moving seed efficiently and effectively around the world?  

Fan-Li Chou (FC): Seed is one agricultural input for which there is no substitute. The farmer may be tied to a specific tract of land and unable to control the weather, but she will choose the seed that works best for her production system. Therefore, the global seed industry is always moving forward to make sure that the farmer is starting out with the best seed possible.

ASTA’s motto is Better Seed for Better Life. I think governments are recognizing the truth in that, and for sure the farmers are.  It’s important that governments and the global seed industry work together to move forward to provide access and choice of better seed to farmers. 

SW: If you could ‘wish away’ one key regulatory/trade blockage, which would you choose?

FC: As a scientist, I am so excited by the current speed of discovery and accumulation of scientific knowledge.  The genome of over 900 plant species has been sequenced, and we have the tools such as genome editing to better understand the genome-to-phenome connection and to more efficiently and precisely develop new, improved varieties.  

As a seed industry professional, what worries me is that we will be unable to progress from scientific discovery to innovation in the farmland because of uncertain and inefficient regulatory regimes. 

Because of the pressing issues of global food security and climate change, the seed industry needs all the tools available to respond more quickly with improved varieties. There must be a sense of urgency for countries to adopt a transparent, predictable, risk proportional regulatory approach and to reduce unjustified, burdensome and costly regulatory barriers to entry for small- and medium-sized entities.  

There is no fairy godmother in the seed industry, so a wish stays a wish unless we put in some work.  Firstly, we have to get our own house in order. I’m working closely with U.S. regulators to minimize regulatory uncertainty and inefficiency in the U.S. system to ensure that the U.S. seed industry remains a global leader. Secondly, ASTA is a USDA cooperator, we are using our grant to advocate for pro-innovation markets globally.  

From my perspective, the long-term economic, social, and environmental sustainability of global agriculture cannot afford to put on the shelf innovation in plant breeding and seed variety development. 

SW: What were some of ASTA’s biggest wins in 2023? 

FC: ASTA’s biggest assets are our staff and the trusted relationships we have and continue to build around the world.  These relationships allow us to react and respond nimbly to solve emerging issues for the seed industry and to effectively tackle long term policy goals, such as the regulatory approach to plant breeding innovation. In the last few years, we are seeing more and more countries, including India, Japan and the Philippines, formalizing and implementing policies to differentiate plant breeding innovation products from GMOs. This positive trend is hugely encouraging and can be critical for PBI to be deployed in breeding programs across the sector.   

We are a small and mighty staff at ASTA.  Between the four staffers working on international programs, we hosted or met with government and private sector representatives from over 50 countries!  Sam Crowell, ASTA’s Senior Director for International Programs and Policy, and I are racking up the frequent flyer miles, traveling to six continents this year to work with sister associations and meet with government officials.  I certainly have packing everything into a carry-on down to a science.

SW: How do you hope to spend your non-work time in 2024?

FC: Not traveling? Just kidding. I’m part of a three-generation household, my mom, my spouse and my two daughters, who like to travel. We are planning on knocking off a few places on my mom’s bucket list and taking the girls snowboarding on real snow (I’ll be in the chalet).