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Three Questions With...Steven Hutton

Steven Hutton has served as the President of CIOPORA for six years, and during his journey, he has worked closely with the Secretary General, Dr. Edgar Krieger, to shape the association’s structure and focus.

As a third-generation nurseryman and former President & CEO of the Conard-Pyle Company/Star Roses & Plants, Steven brought a wealth of industry knowledge and experience to the role, as well as fresh ideas and connections with companies, organizations, and associations in the US.

During his tenure, the industry has seen significant changes and challenges. In his last days as President, Steven reflected on the past six years, the changes that have occurred, and the challenges that lie ahead.

1.- You were elected at the AGM 2017. Since then, plant breeders have faced different challenges: an increase in discussion about climate change, new types of consumers looking for new varieties with particular characteristics, an environmental regulation that poses new challenges for innovation, the Covid-19 pandemic, among many others. What, in your perspective, were the most significant challenges the industry faced during these years, and how did being part of an association like CIOPORA help plant breeders overcome these challenges?

All the difficulties for our members you list can be placed in the general category of “uncertainty,” and uncertainty is bad for any industry. The global health pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the resulting humanitarian and economic issues such as energy availability and cost, shaky economic situation throughout the world—these all make it very hard to undertake all the hundreds of decisions a business must make in order to remain vibrant and successful. This is especially true in industries such as fruit, ornamental plant, and medical cannabis breeding, where business investment cycles and R&D horizons are very long and capital-intensive.

Because our members are used to this situation because they are intimately knowledgeable about their businesses and their sciences and crafts, most have found a way to navigate all these issues, and many have done quite well.

Throughout all this, CIOPORA has been a hub for both educating our members, who had no possibility to travel for almost two years, and for advocating for improved IP rights. We were there for our members and they responded enthusiastically. In fact, we continued to add members throughout all these difficulties in all the sectors we represent.

2.-The changes and transformations brought by technology have been even more pronounced in recent years, and often it seems that regulations or laws have a slower pace that does not allow them to respond in time to new challenges. What is your opinion regarding the tools available to encourage and protect the innovation of plant breeders? What role is intellectual property playing? What are the future challenges in this matter?

Despite the clear fact that research and development and the resultant innovations brought to society by our members would not exist without strong IP protection, there are some groups who formally oppose laws that protect our innovators. This means that our education efforts must not only be focused internally on our members but externally to educate those who oppose our rights and the legislators around the world who are susceptible to their arguments.

Additionally, the UPOV 1991 legislation is now more than thirty years old, enacted at a time when genetic engineering was in its infancy and new breeding techniques like Crisper-Cass had not even been invented. These technologies are not fully and clearly accounted for in that law, nor or the many and ever-increasing countries of cut flower and fruit production always hospitable to IP rights. At the same time that breeders must now protect their varieties in more territories, adding to protection costs, the cost of DUS testing is increasing. The world becomes more complex every year, and breeders’ rights are increasingly under more financial and political pressure. Organizations like CIOPORA and our sister associations on the seed side are now more important than ever in this changing IP environment.

3.- What were the best things about being President of CIOPORA? What were your favorite moments? What feeling do these 6 years leave you with? What will you say to the new President when you hand over the baton?

There have been so many wonderful aspects of my six years as CIOPORA president, but to just list a few I’d start with being able to spend time with so many of our members during in-person and virtual AGMs, during many of our Academies, and at various trade shows. Additionally, the Hamburg staff of CIOPORA is now larger and stronger and more committed to the success of the organization and its membership than ever, and it has been a deep pleasure to work with them. CIOPORA’s board, whose members donate their time and money to CIOPORA’s mission and members, is a phenomenal group of individuals who make the president’s job easy (usually). Finally, I have had a chance to work frequently and closely and collaboratively with Edgar Krieger, our Secretary General, whose wisdom I greatly enjoy and whose friendship I greatly cherish.

For all the above reasons, CIOPORA’s membership is at an all-time high, with over 150 firms. The more voices we have in support of strong IP rights for breeders the stronger we will be. This is deeply satisfying, as it sets us up for achieving goals we have not been able to pursue in the past.

To my successor as president, I would say, enjoy yourself—the time will pass quickly.


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