American Seed Trade Association President and CEO Andrew LaVigne (left) and Jun Yang, the vice president of the China National Seed Association, show their copies of a Memorandum of Understanding that they signed on Dec. 3. The MOU will promote cooperation between the two countries’ seed industries, including visits and exchanges of scientists, joint training and education programs. Representatives of major U.S. seed companies were on hand for the historic signing.
CHICAGO — The word “monumental” was repeated more than once as a historic agreement between the seed associations of two major agricultural giants was sealed with the flick of two pens.
“This marks a monumental occasion,” said American Seed Trade Association chairman Blake Curtis of Curtis & Curtis Inc., a seed company based in Clovis, N.M.
Just minutes before, Andrew LaVigne, president and CEO of ASTA, and Jun Yang, the vice president of the China National Seed Association, signed copies of a memorandum of understanding to increase collaboration between China and the U.S. in the seed industry.
The agreement includes cooperation, training and education in areas such as intellectual property rights — the creation or exchange of intellectual property is not anticipated under the agreement — seed movement, phytosanitary measures in seed production and other areas.
In addition, visits and exchanges of scientists and participation in conferences and exhibitions and exchange of technical data are part of the MOU.
“A lot of development goes on between the two. There are also a lot of demands out there with respect to feeding both the world, as well as our countries, so how do we work cooperatively to address these issues going forward? That’s where we see this monumental opportunity here,” said Lavigne, adding that both countries’ seed companies and their seed industries have a monumental responsibility, as well.
“Also the responsibilities that we have as seed industries to make sure that growers have the technology available to them to produce a crop that’s high yielding and a good return for their investment.”
Representatives of major U.S. seed companies and seed companies in China were on hand for the event.
“On behalf of Monsanto, this is a very important occasion for us. Like our other collaborators and competitors in the room, China is a huge market for us. It’s all about yield, and it’s all about improvement of agriculture across this world,” said Kenny Avery, global operations lead for Monsanto Vegetables and Asia seed and traits.
“From my perspective, this cooperation and this coming together — I think all of us in agriculture realize it’s built on relationships and mutual trust between people. There’s give and take, an exchange of mutual benefit that actually enriches both parties, and I think that is the ultimate goal of the MOU, is to bring understanding so that both parties are enriched in their daily life and bring that back to their customers and their countries,” said John Schonecker, director of intellectual property at HMClause.
“It is on this occasion that we bring together the two most powerful agricultural producers in the world to agree to do things that have never been done before. In my world, I think of how we balance the audacity to believe that we can change the world’s food system while maintaining the humility to know how small we are and how big our challenge is,” said Bill Niebur, vice president and general manager of DuPont Pioneer China.
“We are, in fact, legitimate leaders if we continue to listen to the customer as Blake and others have challenged us to do.”
Li Zhao, president of China operations at Stine Seed, talked about a book she read while a student in China.
“I remember when I was in college I read a book, ‘Who Will Feed China?’ I was still in China back then, and I thought, of course, the Chinese people,” she said. “But today I realize it’s a global effort. I am so pleased and proud that I was actually part of it.”
She also noted that while the endeavor likely will prove profitable to companies, along with that comes responsibility.
“It will probably be a winning situation for us financially but we also have a social responsibility that by helping us, at the same time, we are helping the Chinese farmer,” she said.
Tim Johnson, president of Illinois Foundation Seeds Inc. and president of the International Seed Federation, noted the goal of feeding a hungry and growing global population.
“I think the signing today allows us to build momentum and leadership that can not only take and feed more people more successfully in China, but I truly believe it will create the opportunity to help feed more of the rest of the world,” he said.
LaVigne noted that the MOU will enhance opportunities for U.S. seed companies as China’s population grows while its agricultural land shrinks.
“How do they meet that demand as the population continues to grow? We see opportunity across the agricultural spectrum, whether it’s for farmers to import our product or whether it’s for our seed companies to work with their seed companies and improve yields for Chinese farmers,” he said.