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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
Feb 21, 2017
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

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Jan 28, 2016


Jan 29, 2016

Does this include protecting seed corporations? Is there a commitment to non genetically modified seeds? What about heirlooms and organics?

Ben Weaver
Feb 08, 2016

@Glenn Saxton - thanks for the comment. The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies maintains a web site, called the <a href="; rel="nofollow">Organic Seed Finder</a>, which helps organic seed vendors and potential customers to find one another.

Ben Weaver
Feb 08, 2016

@Alex - thanks for the comment. The U.S. OECD Seed Schemes Program, Federal Seed Act, and the Plant Variety Protection Act promotes and protects the interests of all parties involved in the seed trade. This includes home gardeners, small family farmers, university researchers, plant breeders, and seed businesses of all sizes. AMS is committed to facilitating and promoting the fair marketing of all categories of seed (organic, heirloom, etc.) in domestic and international markets.

Miss Amanda
Aug 06, 2016

By the way, this is what Sec. Vilsack wrote:

"However, as global populations grow, the United Nations estimates that worldwide demand for food will increase 60 percent by 2050. Some experts estimate it will take as much innovation in agriculture in the next 40 years as in the preceding 10,000 years to meet the growing demand for food. That’s why the Obama Administration launched Feed the Future in 2010, which rethinks how the U.S. can combat hunger and malnutrition, while supporting global agricultural development. Not only is USDA investing in cutting-edge research in an effort to strengthen agricultural production and nutrition, but we are also committed to open data and sharing between nations to ensure that our research and the research of our partners will contribute to efforts to feed the world."