John Schoenecker: A Look Back on the Outgoing ASTA Chairman’s Service to the Seed Industry

USA_2009_Photo-LD_JohnSchoenecker.jpg (Small)John Schoenecker, Director of Intellectual Property for HM.CLAUSE, is completing his term as Chairman of the American Seed Trade Association this month. His service will be honored at the organization’s 132nd annual convention in Washington, D.C. on June 19th.

Schoenecker’s involvement with ASTA first began in 2006 when he was working in legal and regulatory affairs for Harris Moran (before it merged with Clause in 2008 to become HM.CLAUSE). That year, there was an outbreak of e.coli in spinach which sickened more than 200 people nationwide. Schoenecker’s role in regulatory affairs often put him in contact with Tom Moore, Harris Moran’s quality assurance manager at the time, who was receiving requests from customers for seed testing as a response to the outbreak. People were anxious to identify the source of the problem and some believed that seeds could be a carrier of human pathogens. Moore was then serving as chairman of the Phytosanitary Committee for ASTA and thought that Schoenecker’s expertise would be useful in the organization’s efforts to investigate whether seed could be a source. As a result of Schoenecker’s participation, the ASTA Working Group on Emerging Issues was formed. This group performed a thorough literature review which enabled ASTA to put out an official statement emphasizing that seeds are not responsible for the transmission of human pathogens.

From that point on, Schoenecker became an incredibly active ASTA member serving in various capacities, including as Western Region VP, Chair of the Vegetable and Flower Seed Division, Chair of the ASTA Working Group on Patent Expiration (AgAccord) and serving on both the Intellectual Property Committee and the International Executive Committee. He also represented ASTA on the board of the International Seed Federation’s (ISF) Vegetable & Ornamental Section.

In 2012, he was nominated to the position of 2nd Vice Chair where he helped to update ASTA’s strategic plan. This process required a coordinated effort by the board of directors who polled more than 250 members of the organization’s 700 plus members. After all of the member feedback was compiled, the board then narrowed and refined ASTA’s key strategic focus areas to create the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan.

In 2013 when Schoenecker’s term as Vice Chair began, the main priority for the organization was to implement the new strategic plan. For example, in order to better meet member needs, an evolution in committee focus saw a shift from a crop-based to an issue-based structure, while keeping important crop-based activities and cohesion intact. Another major initiative during this time included the rollout of a major communications effort to develop and focus the association’s message on the seed and the long history of plant breeding work, which has provided advanced varieties that offer better solutions for growers and consumers. To help accomplish this goal, the organization hired a public relations firm and is developing a communications plan that will take advantage of modern media platforms.

In 2014, Schoenecker took over as ASTA Chairman. His work as Chair focused mainly on advocacy efforts, including continued work toward the ratification of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture by the US Senate. The treaty aims to help facilitate food security and plant diversity through the global exchange of seeds and crop genetic resources. The US is a signatory to the treaty and it earned a favorable review from the Obama administration, however the Senate has yet to ratify the treaty. To get the necessary buy-in from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the treaty must first win the support of the Agriculture Committee. Given the complex and bureaucratic nature of our political structure, advocacy requires a significant investment of time in order to first understand how to navigate the system and then to get in front of relevant lawmakers to present the issues. To this end, Schoenecker’s efforts on behalf of ASTA members have been considerable, and are still ongoing, with another round of visits to key legislators planned during the “Storm the Hill” event at the Annual meeting. Keeping with the commitment to embrace modern communications, ASTA hired providers of a smart phone app to aid in their members’ advocacy efforts. It contains background information on industry issues, contact information for the senators and representatives, maps to offices on Capitol Hill, and other helpful tools for the 100+ ASTA members that will participate this year.

Throughout his tenure, and indeed since the beginning of his involvement with ASTA, Schoenecker has gone above and beyond in his efforts to promote and advocate for the seed industry. He serves as the liaison between ASTA and the California Seed Association, where he also occupies a seat on the Legislative Committee. According to Tom Moore, now West Coast Small Seed Production Manager at HM.CLAUSE, Schoenecker shines when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. “His passion for the industry and genuine nature make him one of the most effective spokespeople I have ever met,” said Moore.

ASTA President and CEO, Andy LaVigne, praised John for taking on the leadership role in developing the AgAccord. The AgAccord provides a framework for handling the fair use and dissemination of GM technologies once they go off patent. “John took the initiative and drove the process, which was remarkable given that he works for a vegetable seed company that doesn’t deal in GM products,” said LaVigne. This fact earned Schoenecker the respect and admiration of his peers who recognized definitively that his interests serve the industry as a whole.

Betsy Peterson, Associate Director of Technical Services at the California Seed Association, also complemented Schoenecker’s service as Chairman. “His incredible work ethic, knowledge about a broad range of issues, leadership skills, and supportive encouragement of others to serve as committee chairs has made him a strong leader for the industry,” she said.

Ever humble, Schoenecker demurred saying, “It’s a really good time to be chair because the organization has really hit its stride in the last several years. It has all the right leaders in place and is really hitting on all cylinders.” While it’s true that the organization is running like a well-oiled machine these days, LaVigne said that ASTA’s present success “has a lot to do with John’s numerous and significant contributions over the years.”

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