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Agrimarketing : American Seed Trade Association
SALUTE TO ASTA! ASTA:SEEDSPLANTED125YEARSAGO STILLYIELDINGBOUNTIFULHARVEST by Lynn Henderson, Editorial Director W hen agri-marketers consider the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA),most probably think of the organization’s memberswho are engaged in devel- oping, producing andmarketing of major commodity crops like corn, soybeans,wheat, cotton, sorghum and alfalfa. However, the originalmembers ofASTAwere involvedwith veg- etable and flower seeds andwere primarily located in themain production area for that era— upstateNewYork. Serving that sec- tor’s interests is still a top priority for the association, but since its original founding in 1883,ASTA’smember- ship’s interests have grown as diverse and complicated as that of all modern agriculture. Just 15 years following the end of the CivilWar,a group of 35 seeds- men, principally fromNewEngland, gathered inNewYorkCity for the first annualASTAconvention to dis- cuss the seed industry and themyr- iad of challenges itwas facing. Although several state seed trade associations already existed at the time to grapplewith regional issues, the attendees thought bringing together seedsmen spread over “the geographical limits of thismighty continent”would be better suited to handle issues of national interest. They hoped a national trade associationwould enhance commu- nication, serve to distribute impor- tant information about the seed trade to itsmembers, protectmembers’ interests and assist in influencing the growing national and international regulations and legislation govern- ing the industry. ORIGINAL AGENDA Key issues at the top of the agenda for the association’s founders 125 years agowere: • Protection against unjust claims for damages, Attendees at the 1912 ASTAAnnual Convention held at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago, IL. • Lowering postage rates on seeds, and • Distribution of free seed by the government. ASTAtook action immediately on all three. To protect against unjust claims for damages levied against seed companies,members decided that all seedsmen represented by the associ- ation should adopt a disclaimer to be printed on all seed bags, billheads and labels. The first attempt on the disclaimerwas the following: “While we exercise the greatest care to have all seeds pure and reliable, we do not give any warranty expressed or implied. If the purchaser does not accept the seeds on these conditions, they must be returned at once.” Amodest beginning forwhat has turned into today’s four page document that accompany the purchase ofmost seed. Turning to postage rates,while the nationwas still expanding in 1883 (much of the Great Plainswas just then being homesteaded), the U.S. Postal Service expanded delivery to include not just letters, but also pack- ages. Seeds and agricultural cuttings were the first items permitted to be sent through the newservice. 4 AgriMarketing s American Seed Trade Association Supplement ASTAmembersmetwith Presi- dentGrover Cleveland and power- fulmembers of Congress. They argued that lowering rateswould result in higher overall revenues for the postal service. In the summer of 1884,ASTA’s reasoning prevailed, and the U.S. government lowered its postage rate for seed.An earlywin for the fledg- ling association. Shortly after its creation in 1862, USDA began to collect seed vari- eties, improve and distribute them for free throughout the country. Its intentwas that by improving crops’ varieties, the country’s agricultural outputwould increase and ensure the self-sufficiency ofAmericans. The program, however,made it diffi- cult for private seed companies to exist, let alone thrive. It continually lobbied Congress on the issue, and 31 years later the asso- ciation’s argumentswere finally heard. In 1924, USDA’s free seed dis- tribution programwas discontinued. INDUSTRY RAMPS UP As the effects ofWorldWar I reached the U.S.,ASTAappointed a special War Service Committeewhichmet with both USDAand the federal gov-
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