Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Role of private companies in the seed production and distribution systems in CEEC, CIS and other Countries in Transition: Hungarian experience - János Turi

János TURI
Hungarian Seed Council
Ady E. u. 21
Boly 7754


The writer is grateful for the opportunity to address this meeting on the subject of the last ten years of the Hungarian seed sector, during the period since the change of regime, with special regard to the problems encountered during privatization. In addition to aspects specific to Hungary, much experience was gained that could be of use in other countries where privatization is now in progress or is still in the initial phases. The writer should like to provide food for thought, since the aim of this meeting is to discuss how the regional development of the seed sector could be accelerated.


The privatization of the seed sector in Hungary was decisively influenced by:

One important characteristic of Hungarian seed privatization was that it was based, to a large extent, on the existing traditions of seed production and trading. In many respects, it is simply a continuation of these traditions under altered conditions. This will become clear if we cast a look at the history of Hungarian agriculture. As early as the second half of the nineteenth century, it was recognized that the ecological potential of Hungary, the varied soil conditions, the continental climate, the cheap labour and the logistic advantages all favoured seed production and seed trading. Investors were well aware of this potential, which was supported by the government to such an extent that high quality could be achieved despite the political conflicts.

Variety testing, registration and seed analysis began under state supervision throughout the country, agricultural research institutes were set up, experts were sent to study abroad, new plant species and varieties were tested on large estates within the framework of a seed campaign, and in 1895 a seed law was passed that was equivalent to legislation elsewhere in Europe and which remained in force until 1968. In such an environment, the seed trade flourished and sales were brisk both at home and abroad. Hungarian seed, especially seed of lucerne, designated by a white label with the Hungarian national colours of red, white and green, became a household word. By the end of the nineteenth century, seed production and trading was already much as we know it today and was an important branch of the economy. This development continued into the first half of the twentieth century. It is enough to note that Hungary was a founder member of FIS (1924) and ISTA (1924), in which organizations it played an active role. Hungary was one of the leading partners in the international seed trade. There were, of course, problems, and agricultural crises. It is very instructive to study the measures taken to solve the crisis of 1929-33.

In 1931, the government elaborated a wheat production programme aimed at maintaining or, if possible, enhancing the traditionally high quality of Hungarian wheat, while at the same time achieving the greatest possible yield. This ideal was personified by the variety Bánkúti 1201, the general cultivation of which was supported by the government through a free, later reduced-price, seed campaign. At the same time, wheat production of the country was mapped to determine which varieties were most suited to production in the various growing districts, and care was also taken to ensure that sufficient wheat was milled to satisfy domestic requirements. The concepts which marked this period are still valid, namely the encouragement of high seed quality, state subsidies for seed, and the consideration of individual growing districts and the whole of the production chain.

The practice of contracted seed production was introduced in the first half of the twentieth century. This meant that seed merchants from Western Europe, chiefly from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, brought basic seed of their own peas, beans and flowers to Hungary for seed production, since they were assured that the quality of the new seed would be excellent and they could thus hope for a larger share of the market and higher profits. The volume and wide variety of the seed exported by Hungary can be seen in Table 1. Even more important than the volume of exports, however, was the development of a broad spectrum of stable business contacts, the real value of which was felt during the difficult years following the Second World War. By this time the seed sector had become a well-established branch of the economy, and its reputation was enhanced by the excellent results achieved by Hungarian plant breeders and by the extremely sound institutional background (seed testing and certification). The well-managed large estates excelled in the production of field crops, while the small- and medium-sized farms achieved success in the production of vegetable and flower seeds. Seed had become a traditional product of Hungarian agriculture.

Table 1. Hungarian seed exports 1925 - 1939 (tonnes)


Beans, peas, lentils



Millet, mustard, sorghum



Red and white clover

Sugar beet seed

Vegetable and flower seed

Grass seed



34 967

1 319


9 218

25 638


2 732




74 910


67 095



4 592

23 334


2 625




99 376


33 619

1 884


2 962

23 463

1 366

3 397




67 288


16 827

1 729


2 100

15 526

1 218

2 718




41 038


31 257

1 098


4 958

25 674


3 347




68 862


17 661

1 700

2 818

2 947

27 886

1 260

3 940




59 408


15 446

1 352



19 187

2 031

4 145




45 075


18 775

3 705


1 368

15 796

2 991

5 787




49 590


35 751

1 932


1 728

22 580

2 409

5 757


1 323


72 265


34 280

2 932

1 569

3 190

16 382

2 329

4 874




67 468


28 008

2 220


4 152

20 898

2 009

6 490


1 220


66 174


29 841

5 810

2 152

3 380

15 601

3 426

10 869




72 234


52 603

11 218

2 244

16 092

15 719

3 417

12 026


1 347


115 015


32 016

6 361

1 167

4 690

15 600

1 007

11 017


1 096


73 504


31 470

6 046

2 290

1 563

12 799

2 275

8 172

1 570

1 135


67 632

The losses suffered during the Second World War, the payment of reparations, changes in ownership relationships and nationalization - all these conspired to ruin the seed sector. Socialist trade organizations were set up, including the Seed Production and Marketing Company and the Trading Office for State Farms (ÁGKER), which were responsible for the supervision and execution of state-controlled seed production and trading. Seed exports were arranged by the foreign trade company AGRIMPEX. It is interesting to note that while agricultural contacts with capitalist countries ceased in the tense political atmosphere of the Cold War years, the seed trade was, to a certain extent, an exception. In 1950, for instance, 1 619 t of lucerne seed and 200 t of spring vetch seed were exported, thanks to the goodwill built up by correct business contacts during the previous period. In 1953-54, contracts were signed again by British, German, French and Dutch firms for the production of seed.

The Hungarian seed trade gradually regained its old positions on foreign seed markets and managed to reach the 1938 export level by 1970. It is important to note that although Hungary’s membership in international organizations was suspended, contacts with FIS and ISTA were maintained, and due to the foreign trade relations, Hungarian experts were kept well informed of the situation in seed production in Europe and throughout the world. At the same time, forward-looking Hungarian agricultural policy-makers were able to get a hybrid maize programme started in 1958. A whole series of seed plants were built as part of a priority state investment for the processing of hybrid maize seed. In 1960, hybrid maize seed was produced for the German firm Nord Saat, but the real boom started in 1968, with the announcement of the programme known as the new economic mechanism, which ushered in the golden decade of Hungarian agriculture, during which agricultural production was doubled. This was also true of the seed sector. In 1968, a new seed law was passed introducing an open variety policy, which meant that variety owners from all over the world could market seed of their varieties in Hungary after state testing and registration, though at the time this was still only possible through state agencies.

In 1970, when Hungary acceded to the OECD seed registration system, which was obligatory for many seed exports to the West, Hungarian seed was present on the market in 25 capitalist countries, involving over one hundred regular purchasers and importers. Hungary also became a member of the Seed Specialization Agreement, operated by the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (COMECON), and supplied substantial quantities of seed, mostly of hybrid maize, to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. In 1975, the dynamically expanding seed sector gained even greater momentum due to the appearance of major American and Canadian seed companies, such as Pioneer, Dekalb, Cargill and Asgrow, and to increased activity by West European firms.

The introduction of modern, high-yielding hybrid maize varieties; new production technologies; up-to-date machinery, especially tractors, combines, seed drills and sprayers; and modern seed dryers, resulted in enormous developments. The existing seed plants were modernized and expanded using western technology, and new, up-to-date seed plants were built. Foreign firms could only do business in Hungary through the designated state companies, such as AGRIMPEX, INTERCOOPORESEN and HUNGAROSEED, and they were generally based in breeding institutes (Szeged, Martonvásár, Iregszemcse) or sometimes in large production systems (IKR, KITE, KSZE). The seed trade was also modernized, with foreign trade being the responsibility of the HUNGAROSEED company set up in 1981, and comprising 12 large farms, as well as the Seed Production and Trading Company and the Trading Office for State Farms (ÁGKER). The members were granted a collective foreign trading licence, allowing them to participate in the drafting of business contracts and to maintain contacts with foreign partners. The latter was extremely important, as it led to the acquisition of a considerable amount of expertise, which was then utilized in Hungary and in some cases further developed.

In 1983, Hungary signed the UPOV Agreement, thus recognizing variety ownership rights and origin protection, the internationally accepted system of variety identification. In the meantime, courses had been re-started for the training of seed experts, plant geneticists and breeders, and skilled workers, technicians and laboratory staff for the seed plants. All in all, it can be said that between 1960 and 1990, professional and technical knowledge of seed production and processing was concentrated in the best-equipped state farms and cooperatives and in companies specializing in seed production and trading. Seed production was carried out on large, well-cultivated fields. The homogeneous quality that could be achieved on these large fields, and the isolation ensured in the case of open-pollinated plant species, were a great advantage.

After initial difficulties, plant breeding attained excellent results, especially in the development of cereals (particularly winter wheat), sunflower, and traditional Hungarian crops such as lucerne, clover and spice peppers, and in the elaboration of production technologies specific to the varieties. The breeding institutes were also in state ownership and were supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the agricultural universities and colleges, or the Seed Production and Trading Company. There was virtually no private ownership in the seed sector, except for a few nurseries producing fruit trees and ornamentals. However, in order to compensate the rural population for the higher costs of electricity and transport and for the poor state of public supplies, and to improve public morale, those working in state farms or as members of cooperatives were allowed to farm on plots of 0.4-0.6 ha, and these were often used to produce seed or propagation stock under the supervision of the large-scale farms. The income gained from these plots of land was not subject to any deductions. The large farms delegated the production of hybrid maize and hybrid sunflower seed, which required a great deal of conscientious labour, to the people farming these plots. The farm workers and cooperative members were glad to take on this task (which usually meant involving the whole family in the work), as the extra income was considerable.

The multiplication of vegetable and flower seed was mostly carried out in the gardens of seed company employees (all the village houses had sufficient land for this purpose), but seed cleansing and sales could only take place through state companies. The importance of this situation became clear after the change of regime, since it meant that many agricultural workers had a good working knowledge of seed production.

In the 1980s, the seed sector was characterized by a negligible ratio of private ownership, but by the presence of all the major seed companies of the USA, Canada and Western Europe. Although the foreign firms did not have the right to produce, process or sell seed directly (their Hungarian partners naturally paid the agreed royalties punctually), they were very well acquainted with the situation of the Hungarian seed sector and with the seed markets to which Hungarian seed was exported, and also had wide-ranging personal contacts. Seed production for export purposes and the presence of foreign seed companies in Hungary had a beneficial effect on the technical and professional standard of the whole of the Hungarian seed production chain.

The high genetic, biological and technical seed quality required by the foreign firms, the importance attached to package size and appearance, the introduction of new laboratory methods for seed testing (e.g. cold test, electrophoresis), and the need for punctual, precise delivery - all these had a favourable effect on the multiplication, processing and sales of Hungarian seed and on the whole of field crop production. The importance of the seed sector can be seen in Table 2. In the 1980s, seed production was carried out on 300 000-350 000 ha (7.0-7.3% of the arable area), which was greater than the seed multiplication area of France, the largest seed producer in the European Union, and seed exports amounted to 150 000-160 000 t, which was 25% of total seed production. Hungary was the largest seed producer in the socialist bloc. When the change of regime began, Hungary already had a modern seed sector, with wide-ranging international contacts and a good knowledge of seed markets, not only within the socialist bloc, but also in the West.

Table 2. Major annual data on seed multiplication


Inspected seed multiplication area (ha)

Quantity of certified seed sold

Total (tonne)

At home






128 500




378 600


271 400




396 400


330 128

454 054

112 384


566 439


312 774

452 464

123 854


576 318


334 427

463 886

112 677


576 563


344 784

465 710

144 878


610 588


328 826

447 937

149 815


597 752


309 300

462 744

147 907


610 651


333 546

457 782

131 469


589 251


307 893

420 165

149 709


569 874


278 219

345 209

97 155


442 364


239 634

230 593

81 110


311 703


169 992

247 624

91 117


338 741


158 995

291 971

88 337


380 308


180 286

260 112

84 351


344 463


181 975

219 465

95 164


314 629


160 457

241 675

74 628


316 303


155 775

294 390

79 605


373 995


180 363

252 481

82 526


335 007


169 092

232 751

81 762


314 513


156 400

SOURCE: National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control


The change of regime also brought fundamental changes in agriculture. Political and social transformations were given priority and were carried out rapidly and democratically. There were plenty of examples in history for this process. There were none, however, to show how the socialist economic system could be converted into a market economy, and this transformation went much more slowly and proved much more difficult than was foreseen. In agriculture, the question of land, the most important factor in production, was dealt with by the Compensation Law, while the wealth acquired by the cooperatives was the subject of the Cooperative Law. The peculiarity of this law was that it did not achieve real privatization. Many people became the owners of small plots of land, and the lack of capital that had previously been characteristic of agriculture became even worse.

The institutional structure of centralized, state-controlled purchasing and distributing companies ceased to function, since the state withdrew from the economy, foreign markets, especially those of the COMECON countries, collapsed, and even the domestic market declined due to the massive loss of jobs. Hungarian agriculture had previously produced 50% more than was required for domestic consumption. The loss of foreign markets and the dwindling of domestic demand led to huge overproduction, and the already perceptible recession deepened into an agricultural crisis. Insolvency and an inflation rate higher than the interest rate combined to worsen the shock, with increasing numbers of bankruptcies in agriculture. Hungarian agriculture was left alone with its problems. It was against this background that the new economic laws were passed.

The most important of these was the law governing business companies, which principally favoured foreign investors who were already based in the country or had close business relationships with Hungary, and who not only had sufficient capital to take long-term risks, but also had a well-thought-out marketing strategy that allowed them to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the overproduction shock. Hungarian investments were almost non-existent due to the lack of real privatization, the lack of capital and the extremely limited loans available. It should be noted, however, that land could not be sold to foreign individuals or companies.

The privatization of the more profitable sections of the food industry took place extremely rapidly: the manufacture of vegetable oil, sugar and confectionery, fruit and vegetable processing, the manufacture of soft drinks and tobacco products, and to a certain extent the dairy, meat and poultry industries and the manufacture of feed. To put it bluntly, the privatization of the food industry meant that the farmers suddenly found themselves in a defenceless situation. The disparity between agricultural costs and returns was increasing rapidly, with the cost of inputs, in terms of plant protection chemicals, machinery, fertilizers, fuel and services, approaching or reaching Western standards, while - with the exception of 2000 - wholesale and retail prices rose slowly or stagnated, and in 1998-99 even dropped.

Mention must also be made of the fate of the state farms, the majority of which have been liquidated, since the land they managed was privatized under the terms of the Compensation Law, and the new owners either started farming themselves or leased the land to other farmers or farming organizations. The Company Law stipulated that companies in state ownership, such as state farms, should also be converted into shareholding companies. This was not just a formal transformation, but a real one, since it put control of the companies in the hands of a board of directors delegated by the owners (although in many cases the State Privatization and Property Management Company had majority ownership, the companies were part-owned by the local council or by the employees), and the work of the management was supervised by a supervisory board. Some companies were purchased by the management and the employees. Interestingly enough, after a few abortive attempts, foreign capital did not show any serious interest in the state-owned farms, since the Hungarian laws did not allow them to buy the land or to acquire long-term leases. The government recognized the magnitude of the agricultural crisis and the importance of safe food supplies in general and of biological resources in particular, since these are of great significance for the future. For this reason, 26 agricultural shareholding companies were placed under long-term state ownership. These companies were chiefly farms operating seed processing plants, producing breeding animals, or reliably producing large quantities of high standard milk, meat, poultry, eggs or fish, in most cases profitably.

In general, with the exception of a few cases, such as the Compensation Law and the Cooperative Law, which were based on political and social factors rather than on sound economic considerations, privatization was carried out according to the laws of the market economy. It is now clear, however, that the spontaneous transformation of the economy was overestimated, and the difficulties involved, especially the length of time the transformation would take, were not correctly evaluated.


The change of regime also caused structural alterations in the seed sector. Changes in ownership rights, the sudden flaring up of the agricultural crisis, the loss of foreign markets, the wave of bankruptcies, the insolvency and the high rate of inflation plunged the seed sector into a critical situation. The foreign trade companies, which had formally enjoyed a monopoly, and the companies responsible for domestic trading proved incapable of adjusting to the rapid changes, because management was too bureaucratic, cumbersome and slow. The foreign companies that had exploited the possibilities offered by the Company Law and were already present in Hungary adjusted quickly to the new situation. They established subsidiaries in Hungary and, since their varieties already had a good reputation, they were able to gain a strong foothold, because they not only had an excellently elaborated marketing strategy for the well-known market, but were also in possession of experience and capital. When the political and social situation stabilized, these foreign companies gained even more ground.

The agricultural shareholding companies retained in state ownership also adapted rapidly and flexibly to the changes. They set up export companies to ensure a stable market for the hybrid maize and sunflower they produced, and also managed to compete with the foreign companies on the home market. Looking back, it can be said that the agricultural shareholding companies that remained under state ownership did their job successfully. This is backed up by statistical data. According to Table 2, the amount of certified seed exported in 1990 dropped by 65%, but it can be seen from Table 3, and especially from Table 4, that although hybrid maize seed markets were lost in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Hungarian agriculture achieved a unique success on the CIS market: in 1992-93 and in 1994 more seed of higher value was exported to CIS countries than to members of the European Union.

Table 3. Trends in seed exports and imports (US$ ‘000)





81 992

19 872


94 033

39 320


95 517

36 224


86 653

36 085


72 701

31 666


59 528

24 130


64 953

33 730


66 840

28 919

SOURCE: Based on data from Kopint-Datorg

Table 4. Seed exports from Hungary to various regions, 1993-99
























44 744


40 132


33 194


5 900


11 080


3 823

5 389



2 743


4 834


3 930


4 102


5 484


9 301

10 783



39 775


40 402


43 796


57 882


38 160


40 642

41 541



6 771


10 149


5 733


4 817


4 804


11 187

9 127



94 033


95 517


86 653


72 701


59 528


64 953

66 840

NOTE: * = value in US$ ‘000

SOURCE: Based on data from Kopint-Datorg

It is worth taking a closer look at this success story, as there is much to be learnt from it. Within COMECON, the Seed Specialization Agreement provided the framework for important business contacts. In addition, many young people from CIS countries, especially from Russia, studied at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Gödöllö, and even more Hungarian specialists attended university in Russia or the Ukraine. Some then married there, and in many cases had successful careers. This meant that Hungary had accurate knowledge of the size and special nature of the CIS market, and could provide very competitive, super-early maize hybrids and super-early hybrid sunflower seed with reliable genetic, biological and technical quality in packs to Western standards. Extremely successful demonstrations were held, the production technology was provided and symposiums were organized. This flourishing business received a setback in 1996, when American rivals began to distribute seed within the framework of an aid programme, with a credit construction backed up by state guarantees, which the Hungarian partners were unable to equal, since the Hungarian state budget was not in a position to shoulder the risks. It is worth noting, however, that in spring 1997, Hungarian seed merchants did business in 10 of the 12 climatic zones in Russia, where 18 Hungarian and 2 Russian-Hungarian joint hybrids were registered, while 11 Hungarian maize hybrids were on the national list in the Ukraine and 3 in Belarus. In addition, the Seed Agreement signed in the town of Biszkek was ratified by the Hungarian government.

4.1 Role of national and foreign seed companies

Hungary continued to produce seed on behalf of German, French and Dutch companies. Most of the lost East German, Czech, Slovakian and Polish markets were supplied with hybrid maize seed produced in Hungary, but the distributor was, of course, the variety owner.

The agricultural shareholding companies that remained under long-term state ownership also play a substantial role in Hungarian seed production and distribution, since the production and sales of seed from self-pollinating crops, especially cereals, fodder crops and legumes, has largely remained the sphere of Hungarian companies, and the breeding of winter wheat is exhibiting dynamic development. It must be emphasized again, however, that these modernized companies with majority state ownership had to fight hard for their markets and were obliged to adjust rapidly and flexibly to the new situations arising during the changes.

As mentioned earlier, the monopoly previously enjoyed by the state companies trading seed on foreign and domestic markets had been terminated. In the course of the transformation, a number of smaller companies were set up, generally with the participation of foreign capital, while some parts of the sector were bought up entirely by foreign companies. These new companies rationalized their activities to comply with the changed situation. They organized domestic seed production and distribution, they produced seed for foreign firms, and acted as dealers for the large foreign companies, and in some cases also for Hungarian firms. In many cases, they expanded their activities to include the production and export of industrial crops, alternative crops or plants suitable for use as birdseed.

Many of the highly educated specialists from the old state companies, who had a knowledge of languages and good business contacts both at home and abroad, set up private companies and became seed merchants, either as dealers or as the Hungarian representatives of foreign companies, for whom they organized seed production. There are between 50 and 80 such private companies. In general, development is limited in these companies due to the slow accumulation of capital. With the stabilization of the political, social and economic situation, the participation of foreign capital is gradually strengthening, with new developments being made. In mixed-ownership companies, this often means that the shareholding of the Hungarian owners is reduced, since they are unable to keep pace with this process.

Special attention should be drawn to the enormous developments carried out by the large multinational companies - Pioneer, Novartis and Seminis - over the last five years. In 1996, Pioneer built the most up-to-date seed plant in eastern central Europe, in the Hungarian town of Szarvas. This plant has an annual seed processing capacity of 24 000 t. Seminis and Novartis have established up-to-date logistic centres and laboratories, and have modernized Hungarian seed plants. Many foreign companies now have nurseries in Hungary to test the varieties of the future.

4.2 Final user-driven process

A separate chapter should also be devoted to analysing the effect exerted on the seed sector by the rapid privatization of the food industry. There is now no question of the fact that the user will determine what varieties should be grown. This must be deliberately put bluntly, because, in the final event, it is always the will of the user or customer that must be obeyed. The sugar industry (70 000-100 000 ha are sown to sugar beet each year in Hungary) does not use Hungarian varieties; the cultivation of foreign spring barley varieties is general for malt production; in the vegetable oil industry, too, foreign or joint Hungarian-foreign varieties are gaining more and more ground. This is dealt with in more detail below, when considering the situation in breeding research, but it should be mentioned here that only a complete production chain is capable of producing enough profit to finance breeding and research to ensure its own further development.


The transformation of agriculture also caused serious problems in plant breeding R&D. The role of the state was reduced, leading to less support from the budget, and there was not sufficient capital in the background in Hungary to replace these losses. There is and was a law stating that growers must pay royalties to the variety owner for the seed they use, but due to the general agricultural crisis, the loss of foreign markets, the ground gained by foreign varieties and the teething problems of the new seed market, variety royalties were not able to make up for the deficiency. The breeding institutes were compelled to rationalize their activities, in some cases undertaking contractual work for seed companies and, most importantly, cooperating efficiently with organizations such as the Seed Product Council, which will be described below, in achieving an increase in the use of certified seed and in collecting seed royalties. Very little private capital is invested in breeding, and the private companies that carry out breeding are also engaged in seed production, processing and sales.

Specialists working in the seed sector soon recognized the need for associations to represent and protect their professional interests. This, too, rested on a long tradition, since the Association of Seed Merchants, which represented Hungary in the FIS, was founded as long ago as 1920. At the beginning of the political transformation, the Association of Hungarian Plant Breeders was re-organized and became a real professional forum. The responsibilities of the Hungarian Seed Product Council, set up in 1993 with 138 founder members, are determined by the law on agricultural regulation and by the interests of its members.

The Seed Product Council has members from throughout the seed production chain, from variety owners and breeders, through seed producers and processors, to seed merchants. The main responsibility of the Council is to reconcile interests and to regulate and coordinate the whole of the production chain in order to achieve the aim that the success of crop production should be ensured by the use of registered varieties and certified, dressed seed. In addition it provides professional advice and recommendations for the preparation of laws, decrees and standards connected with seed (the seed law, the decrees passed for its execution, the gene technology law, standards for field inspections and limit values, and any regulation brought by the customs office, the financial administration or the statistics bureau that has anything to do with seed).

In accordance with the Agriculture Regulation Law, the Seed Product Council has an obligation to cooperate with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, providing information on the seed sector, especially as regards the seed supply situation, and if necessary it reaches agreement with the Agricultural Minister on the regulation of the seed market. The Product Council is also responsible for gathering information for dissemination to its members. Soon after its establishment, the Product Council compiled and published a Seed Codex, which was a collection of all the laws, decrees, standards and regulations affecting seed, and a Code of Ethics to serve for the self-regulation of the market behaviour expected from members of the Product Council. It should be emphasized that, in the market economy, the role of civil organizations, such as the Product Councils and professional associations, is of increasing importance. Due to the efforts of the Product Council, some of the subsidies available for crop production can only be granted if certified, dressed seed is sown. The Product Council now has almost 1000 members, representing some 95% of the seed-producing farmers.

Over the last five years, the significance of the Hungarian seed sector has perceptibly increased. Foreign seed companies, particularly the multinationals, but also smaller companies, have become more active. Hungary is now the third-largest exporter of seed to the European Union (Table 5). It is clear from the list of applications for state variety registration given in Table 6 that foreign varieties have gained considerable ground, especially for certain plant species. Ever greater importance is attached to seed quality, to the reliability of seed production (through the provision of irrigation facilities) and to quality guarantees (e.g. through ISO 9002).

Table 5. Seed exports to the EU from various countries (1996)



Value of seed exports
(million ECU)




229 17




113 30




32 88




20 92




13 76




13 33



New Zealand

11 64




11 20




8 34




8 16




7 22




6 78




4 83




4 78



Czech Republic

4 61




4 12




3 18




3 18




2 07




1 87




34 58



539 92



Table 6. Applications for state registration in Hungary (1970-2000)


Number of varieties

Ratio of Hungarian: Foreign








































The history of the Hungarian seed sector and the course of seed privatization demonstrate the fact that traditions and participation in international seed associations are of decisive importance. It is thus important to revive traditions, to renew and strengthen international contacts and to accede to international associations and agreements.

It is essential for associations functioning within the seed sector to operate efficiently and to develop into strong civil organizations capable of protecting their interests.

The fact must be recognized that a fundamental criterion for the consolidation and development of agricultural production is to subsidize the use of biological reproductive materials of guaranteed quality, especially that of certified, dressed seed in field crop production.

Within the privatization of agriculture, that of the seed sector is of special significance. It is essential for the existing plant breeding institutes and varieties to remain in state ownership, because these have enormous value, which it will only be possible to assess objectively at a later date. The economic transformation will be a protracted process, in the course of which domestic breeding institutes and varieties must be given as much support as possible. The fact must be accepted that, in a market economy, business considerations have priority, so specialists in the seed sector must be trained to understand how the market works. One of the most important tasks is to create a balance between the effects of globalization and local opportunities. In the privatization of agriculture, the whole of the production chain must be taken into consideration. If only food is privatized, seed producers and farmers in general will be forced into an intolerable situation. Only the complete agricultural production chain will be capable of ploughing back capital into breeding and research in order to ensure its own future development.

It must be emphasized that specialists who feel a responsibility for the fate of the seed sector can and will find a solution for the privatization of the sector and for its day-to-day problems. Both agricultural history and daily experience make it clear that this will only be possible if these specialists consider the region as a whole and aim to join the mainstream of the world seed trade.


Béla BURIÁN (ed). 1983. Development of seed production and its history in Hungary.

Ferenc GLATZ (ed). 1998. The present situation and prospects of the Hungarian agro-economy.

József SZABÓ (ed). 1981. Seed production and variety use of field crops.

János TURI. 2000. Finding ways out of the agricultural crisis.

Agricultural statistical yearbooks.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page