Back from ASHS
Well, I'm back from the ASHS meeting in New Orleans. Actually, I've been back for nearly a week, just been busy. A good meeting, maybe not the best I've been to, as attendance seemed to be down somewhat (might have been my imagination, I haven't seen the numbers). Still lots of the usual folks, though fewer of the Cornell people I usually try to catch up with. I can't believe it's been five years (almost to the day) since I worked there. Quite a few of the Arkansas and ex-Arkansas crowd, though, and it was good seeing them.
One of the highlights of the meeting was the American Pomological Society's session on blueberries. They had samples of a number of blueberry cultivars, including 'Rubel', which was one of Coville's original selections from the wild, and frankly it was better than 90% of what you get in the grocery store. Surprisingly good, really. I'd even consider planting it if I had a site. It would be interesting, if the all still exist, to line up all those original selections and see how they compare, as well as if one could see any of them reflected in today's. The session had quite a few speakers, covering a range of issues. Of particular interest to me was Arlen Draper, who I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with briefly before the session. The man probably knows more about blueberries than anyone living, and was George Darrow's successor at the USDA. I got a little flash of what ASHS meetings of the 1950's might have been like as he spoke, in his white shirt and dark tie, with no slides, just speaking from the podium...I pictured a whole room of identically dressed men (probably some of them smoking), and talk after talk like that. He was good enough to pull it off, but I wonder if everyone was (of course, if you aren't used to PowerPoint, you don't expect that from a talk either...I suppose they probably had slides or overheads).
My wife once told me: "One thing I like about you is how fond you are of older people". It was amusing to hear her say it that way, and I never really thought of it that sense, but I've always had a deep respect, almost awe, for the giants of horticulture, and I feel deeply privileged whenever I get the opportunity to meet one of the men who laid the foundation for much of what we take for granted in the field today. 99% of the population neither knows nor cares who these people are, but I feel truly proud that I'll be able to say that I've met men like Arlen Draper, Jules Janick, Nelson Shaulis, and Jim Moore (I'm even Jim Moore's "academic grandson").
Anyway, other highlights included a day-long and surprisingly engaging session on intellectual property rights, primarily targeted at breeders. One speaker gave the statistic that where they've investigated, roughly 30% of patented fruit trees were illegally propagated (that is in the U.S., in Australia it's 15%). I'm not surprised it's high, but I'm a little surprised it's that high. It's a testament to how little enforcement there really is, because really, what does a fruit tree cost, compared to the money made off of it? Royalties may amount to a good chunk of change when purchasing hundreds or thousands at a time, but if there was a real risk of having to pull out producing mature trees a few years down the line, it wouldn't be worth it to anyone. Also discussed was the implications of the revised plant patent law, and how it's being used to limit breeding. I personally think that interpretation is a load of nonsense, and any common sense reading of the law should make that obvious, but clearly not everyone feels that way. One of the lawyers present suggested that valid or not, breeders at public universities need not worry, because the Constitution prevents people from suing states in federal court. An interesting observation, though it's worth noting the other lawyer there did not agree.
My own talk was in an inappropriate session at the very end of the conference, and was poorly attended, but it garnered lots of interest anyhow, and many people approached me before hand to discuss the work. I have a number of collaborations in the early stages as a result, and I'm excited to see how it all plays out. Had a good talk with Doug Bielenberg from Clemson about his work on the Evergrowing mutant in peach, which I've seen him present before. An interesting story, and I'm trying to keep close track of his work to see how it works out. Also met (or re-met) some folks from Cornell that I didn't know from my time there, and had a good talk about things Rosaceae, and especially strawberries, as well as things Cornell and things grad student.
I also had several exciting job prospects. One of them is in industry, which I'm still trying to get my head around, as I honestly never really thought about it because, really, how much private fruit breeding is there? It's an opportunity to work with the absolute cutting edge in fruit breeding, but it also brings a change of mindset and culture, so I need to really thinnk about it, but I think it's probably too good an opportunity to turn down. (My odds sounded good, but I don't actually have it yet, so some one else may make the decision for me.) Not my only opportunity, but the first one that requires action on my part. Very exciting, regardless. I must say the whole grad student thing is starting to wear a little thin.
Anyway, now I'm back and it's back to the grind, with slightly increased urgency. I'm really going to try to get back to regular posting here and do a few more genetics pieces. Some exciting stuff going on in the lab, but I probably ought to publish it the regular way, rather than on a blog. Tough to resist, though. Probably better that way. I think I bore about 90% of my readership when I start talking genetics. Luckily none of you are paying for this. (If you'd like to send me money, though, you can e-mail me and I'll make arrangments).