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Seeds Spur Growth in International Relations

Posted by Ernest Allen, Director, AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program’s Seed Regulatory and Testing Division in Conservation Trade
Jan 28, 2016
A seed growing
The U.S. OECD Seed Schemes Program works with counterparts in 57 countries to ensure U.S. seed shipments avoid import barriers.

The U.S. seed industry and the international market continue to grow to keep up with feeding the world’s population.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is helping to ensure the availability of products that start with seeds through the enforcement of laws and management of international programs that promote the interests of the U.S. seed industry.

AMS promotes the research and development of new plants and crops by protecting plant breeders’ rights through laws such as the Plant Variety Protection Act and the Federal Seed Act.  AMS also protects the interest of U.S. businesses – including the $1.5 billion U.S. seed industry – by representing them at international meetings, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes.

The OECD Seed Schemes is a network of nations that work together to facilitate the trade of high quality seeds.  Currently, 58 countries participate in the program.  The United States OECD Seed Schemes program is administered and managed by the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program.

At OECD meetings, government and industry officials discuss and adopt new rules for the international seed trade.  For international shipments, AMS communicates directly with the designated authorities of the receiving OECD Seed Schemes countries to ensure that newly developed varieties can be planted and to increase the quantity of seeds set forth by agreements made at annual OECD meetings.

Each year, seed businesses spend millions of dollars developing better vegetable and agricultural varieties.  When a seed business develops a new variety, seeds from the plants are very limited – often just a handful of seeds exist.  In order to bring the new variety to market faster, businesses have the option of sending new varieties to other countries with more favorable growing conditions.  For example, in the winter, newly developed varieties can be sent to temperate environments where more seeds can be produced instead of waiting until the following summer for warm weather in the United States.

The process begins with the seed developer contacting the official Seed Certifying Agency in their State who determines if the newly submitted variety meets global standards for a new variety.  This ensures that the new variety produces plants with uniform characteristics, is distinct from all other varieties by at least one unique character, and is genetically stable.  If these qualifications are met, the Seed Certifying Agency will request that AMS – the U.S. Designated Authority – review and approve the variety.

Once approved, AMS contacts the receiving country to verify that the new seed variety meets the requirements of OECD Seed Schemes and is eligible to be shipped and planted.   Once both countries reach agreement, the seed is allowed to enter into the receiving country and avoids the regulations that vary between countries.  To ensure the program works as efficiently as possible, close cooperation between AMS, seed breeders, Seed Certifying Agencies, and the Designated Authorities of countries participating in the OECD Seed Schemes is crucial.

The U.S. OECD Seed Schemes program and its counterparts provide a reliable and efficient system for shipping seed around the world.  The program benefits U.S. seed businesses by giving them protection and access to foreign seed markets.  It benefits U.S. farmers and consumers by facilitating the accessibility of desirable varieties at reasonable prices throughout the year.

Category/Topic: Conservation Trade