US food guru at hor­ti­cul­ture con­fer­ence

The Orchardist - - News -

Roland Fu­masi is well-known world­wide for his work for Rabobank’s RaboRe­search Food & Agribusi­ness group.

He un­der­stands the con­sumer-led mar­ket that grow­ers are pro­vid­ing for and the chal­lenges around that, so his pre­sen­ta­tion will be of great in­ter­est at our con­fer­ence and be­yond.

He is a pro­po­nent of de­liv­er­ing ex­actly what con­sumers want - safe, con­sis­tent, high qual­ity pro­duce that is good value, but also has a light im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Dr Fu­masi is a vice-pres­i­dent, se­nior an­a­lyst and man­ager for RaboRe­search Food & Agribusi­ness group. Head­quar­tered in Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia, he is re­spon­si­ble for cov­er­ing and analysing the US and North Amer­i­can fresh fruit and veg­etable in­dus­tries, gen­eral Cal­i­for­nia agri­cul­ture, and he leads the Fresno re­search team. He com­bines a back­ground in agribusi­ness re­search with in­ter­na­tional mar­ket de­vel­op­ment and fi­nance ex­pe­ri­ence in the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try.

Dr Fu­masi gained his PhD in Agri­cul­tural Eco­nomics at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity in 2013. Be­fore join­ing Rabobank, his ca­reer in­cludes re­search, fi­nance, mar­ket­ing and ex­ec­u­tive roles. His re­search fo­cused on spe­cialty crops and al­ter­na­tive en­ergy (bio-fuel) pro­duc­tion, and he pro­duced an award-win­ning the­sis re­lated to spe­cialty crops. He re­ceived both his B.S. and M.S. in Agribusi­ness from the Cal­i­for­nia Polytech­nic State Uni­ver­sity San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).

RaboBank’s RaboRe­search Food and Agribusi­ness group is a global team of more than 90 an­a­lysts who mon­i­tor and eval­u­ate global mar­ket events that af­fect agri­cul­ture world­wide.

The Hor­ti­cul­ture Con­fer­ence will be held July 12-14 in Tau­ranga. More in­for­ma­tion can be found on its web­site.

On April 3, the com­pany told grow­ers and share­hold­ers that it be­lieved the plant ma­te­rial had been trans­ferred in breach of the com­pany’s li­cences and plant va­ri­ety rights (PVRs). In the state­ment, chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer Si­mon Lim­mer said be­cause of the pos­si­ble fraud­u­lent sale of li­cence, the breach “could give rise to crim­i­nal is­sues in New Zealand” and that Ze­spri had passed the in­for­ma­tion to the New Zealand Po­lice, who were in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

The fol­low­ing day, the com­pany an­nounced the re­sults of its lat­est re­lease of 400 hectares of G3 li­cence, with grow­ers pay­ing a me­dian price of $235,000 (ex­clud­ing gst), per hectare com­pared with a 2016 me­dian for re­stricted bids of $173,913 (ex­clud­ing gst). De­mand was strong with only a quar­ter of the 938 bids prov­ing suc­cess­ful.

Given the high price New Zealand grow­ers are pay­ing for G3 li­cence, and the pre­mium re­turns for the fruit, the com­pany wants to pro­tect its PVR from unau­tho­rized pro­duc­tion.

Ze­spri says that be­cause the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on-go­ing, it is lim­ited in the in­for­ma­tion it can re­lease. Dave Court­ney, gen­eral man­ager grower and ex­ter­nal re­la­tions, said that in terms of the G3, the ma­te­rial ap­peared to have been trans­ferred and planted in about 2012 and the area planted was around 100 hectares. (New Zealand has about 6,000 hectares planted in G3; G9, how­ever, was de­com­mer­cialised in 2015 be­cause of prob­lems with skin shriv­el­ing.)

Asked if any fruit had been pro­duced or sold, Ze­spri said most of the plant­ings were very im­ma­ture and yet to pro­duce com­mer­cial crops. “Any fruit sold will likely be a very small vol­ume, and has not been sold as SunGold. We also ac­tively mon­i­tor and en­force breaches of our trade­mark and thus we do not believe that the fruit is be­ing sold as SunGold,” the com­pany said.

Ze­spri started its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion around April 2016 after re­ceiv­ing lo­cal in­for­ma­tion about po­ten­tial plant­ings, and con­firmed the re­ports at the end of the year, lead­ing to the po­lice in­quiry that’s now un­der­way in New Zealand.

Mr Court­ney said the com­pany has been build­ing its net­works in China in re­cent years, not just through its sales and mar­ket­ing ef­forts, but to ex­plore the fea­si­bil­ity of grow­ing its fruit in there for lo­cal sup­ply.

If con­firmed, this won’t be the first unau­tho­rized plant­ing of PVR pro­tected ki­wifruit in the coun­try, with plant­ings of the gold va­ri­ety Hort16a known to be in China. The PVR on the va­ri­ety in New Zealand ex­pires next year.

Se­cur­ing and en­forc­ing PVRs out­side New Zealand can be a com­plex, ex­pen­sive and po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive mat­ter, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts in the field.

In New Zealand, the lead agency for ad­min­is­ter­ing plant va­ri­ety rights is the Plant Va­ri­ety Rights Of­fice, In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Of­fice of New Zealand, known as PVRO IPONZ. In­grid Bayliss, IPONZ na­tional man­ager, said that while New Zealand law pro­tects va­ri­eties in New Zealand, if a va­ri­ety needs to be pro­tected in other coun­tries, it can be done by “mak­ing ap­pli­ca­tion in each coun­try pro­tec­tion is de­sired, by the va­ri­ety owner. A va­ri­ety pro­tected in New Zealand is not pro­tected in other coun­tries un­less an ap­pli­ca­tion for pro­tec­tion is made and granted in that coun­try un­der that coun­try’s laws”.

Ms. Bayliss said that China, like New Zealand, was a mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Pro­tec­tion of New Va­ri­eties of Plants (UPOV), and that China’s law for the grant­ing of pro­tec­tion for new plant va­ri­eties, like New Zealand’s, is com­pat­i­ble with the 1978 In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion for Pro­tec­tion of New Va­ri­eties of Plants.

Wendy Cash­more is the plant va­ri­eties man­ager at Plant & Food Re­search where she leads a team of seven work­ing on PVR is­sues, and she says se­cur­ing PVRs in over­seas ju­ris­dic­tions isn’t easy. “It’s quite a chal­leng­ing and ex­pen­sive process so any­one who's a breeder or de­vel­oper or has pro­pri­etary rights needs to think pretty mind­fully about what their ap­petite for in­vest­ment to gain that pro­tec­tion is,” she said.

A well-thought through PVR strat­egy for one va­ri­ety cov­er­ing a num­ber of coun­tries could cost as much as $200,000, and take sev­eral years. She said there were also time con­straints of around four to six years from com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion within which PVR pro­tec­tions must be ac­quired.

Ms. Cash­more says while there aren’t many pub­lished case stud­ies, it’s quite well known anec­do­tally that plant va­ri­eties seen as of­fer­ing an ad­van­tage have been ac­quired “not al­ways with the au­tho­riza­tion of the breeder or IP de­vel­oper”. And with com­pa­nies like Ze­spri mak­ing ma­jor in­vest­ments in de­vel­op­ing smart, up-to-date va­ri­eties “some­times the spot­light can go on those more than per­haps other va­ri­eties”.

In­deed, in mid-2000, news broke of pre­mium New Zealand ap­ple va­ri­eties – Ap­ple va­ri­ety ‘Sciros’, mar­keted as Pa­cific Rose and the va­ri­ety ‘Sciglo’, mar­keted as South­ern Snap – be­ing grown in Chile, which sparked ac­cu­sa­tions of in­ter­na­tional smug­gling. Re­ports at the time also re­ferred to Chi­nese sci­en­tists be­ing caught in 1997 try­ing to smug­gle cut­tings of an­other pro­tected ap­ple va­ri­ety from Auck­land air­port.

De­cid­ing whether or not to seek PVR pro­tec­tions and in what coun­tries depends on a va­ri­ety of fac­tors in­clud­ing where and whether you in­tend to pro­duce, grow or mar­ket your crop, Ms Cash­more said. Strate­gies can range from the de­fen­sive – want­ing sim­ply to pre­vent il­licit pro­duc­tion – to the more pos­i­tive – where a PVR holder might want to part­ner with lo­cal op­er­a­tors to grow and mar­ket their cul­ti­var off­shore.

Sim­i­larly, how and whether you take ac­tion if il­licit pro­duc­tion is sus­pected is equally com­plex. (Ze­spri says its G3 and G9 va­ri­eties do have PVR pro­tec­tion lo­cally in China, and those rights do not ex­pire un­til 2036.)

Not re­fer­ring specif­i­cally to the Ze­spri case, Ms Cash­more said that us­ing PVR pro­tec­tion isn’t the only – and some­times isn’t the best – way of deal­ing with sus­pected breaches.“You can use other con­tract­ing tools or brand­ing tools – those kinds of things – in con­junc­tion with your PVR,” she said.

Things are some­what sim­pler in­side New Zealand. Dave Court­ney says some­times peo­ple might over­plant, be­yond what they’re li­censed for, and that has to be cor­rected. “We’ve got a fairly well de­fined process we go through here in New Zealand, but that’s com­pletely sep­a­rate from this is­sue,” he said.

In­grid Bayliss, IPONZ na­tional man­ager, said that in New Zealand it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the plant va­ri­ety right holder “to en­force their right and take ac­tion against po­ten­tial in­fringe­ments”. While al­le­ga­tions of theft or fraud would be made di­rectly to the po­lice – as has hap­pened in the Ze­spri case – the owner or li­censee of a PVR could also bring civil pro­ceed­ings, of­ten re­ferred to as an in­fringe­ment.

“Cases of in­fringe­ment be­ing made pub­lic against a plant va­ri­ety right (PVR) are rare in the New Zealand hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tor as far as IPONZ is aware,” she said. “It is not un­usual how­ever, for IPONZ to hear of sit­u­a­tions where a rights holder be­lieves an­other party is prop­a­gat­ing their pro­tected va­ri­ety with­out their per­mis­sion.”

She said IPONZ had also heard of al­leged cases “where a va­ri­ety is be­ing passed off as a pro­tected va­ri­ety when in fact it is a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety, and there are on av­er­age one or two of these sit­u­a­tions a year”.

“These sit­u­a­tions don’t ap­pear to go to a court hear­ing. In­dus­try par­tic­i­pants tell IPONZ that anec­do­tally, it ap­pears the is­sues are re­solved between the par­ties with­out the need for court ac­tion,” she said.

Roland Fu­masi

Wendy Cash­more is the Plant Va­ri­eties Man­ager at Plant & Food Re­search. Credit: © Plant & Food Re­search In­grid Bayliss, Na­tional Man­ager for IPONZ // Credit: IPONZ

By Bryce Mor­ri­son, As­sis­tant Hor­ti­cul­tural Con­sul­tant for Fruition Hor­ti­cul­ture (BOP) Ltd

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