Jack Payne

New plant varieties give Florida farmers a fighting chance in the international market by giving them fruit that stands up to the latest disease, survives harsh weather and catches the eye of shoppers in the produce aisle.

Plants developed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are intellectual property – public scientists’ inventions. Taxpayers, growers and universities pay for innovation that makes Florida one of the world’s major agricultural successes.

We can’t contain innovation within Florida’s borders. Once UF/IFAS sells the right to use a new variety, a clock starts ticking. After that clock has run for four to six years, no one in Mexico, Brazil or Europe has to pay for that right if we don’t have legal protections in those territories.

To prevent that giveaway, Florida Foundation Seed Producers, Inc., an affiliate of UF/IFAS, licenses varieties in other countries. That establishes who gets to use varieties and at what cost.

We license to Florida first. You always have a head start, often years ahead of any producer abroad. And those varieties are created for Florida conditions. We’re trying to come up with a variety that takes to Florida’s soil, not Mexico’s.

International producers pay more than you do, too. This allows us to keep our licensing fees for Florida producers lower, which is only fair since Florida growers invest up front in plant innovation.

The question isn’t whether international producers are going to use UF/IFAS-developed varieties. They are, whether we license or not. Licensing is the tool we (and by extension, you) use to have them use those plants on our terms.

Do we get royalties from this licensing to help assist our plant breeding programs? Sure we do. Most of the money, however, goes right back into inventing the next batch of new varieties – an endless loop designed to always keep you ahead.

So much of it, in fact, that a national survey conducted in 2012 showed that our reinvestment is the most aggressive of all land-grant and peer institutions included.

Our inventors get a small cut, too. While they chose service-oriented careers in public science, we believe that rewards can motivate anyone to do a better job, whether that’s raising crops or coming up with a new vegetable variety.

Inventions and ideas across the globe in a flash while your fruit inches up out of the ground. The only choice when a popular, profitable new plant variety comes on the scene is whether it gets licensed or given away.

Licensing is how we codify fairness. That’s important because Florida growers don’t fear international competition. They just ask for it to be a fair fight.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.