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Cropping synonymy: varietal standardization in the United States, 1900-1970.

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This article examines crop varietal standardization in the United States. Numerous committees formed in the early twentieth century to address the problem of nomenclatural rules in the horticultural and agricultural industries. Making shared reference to a varietal name proved a difficult proposition for seed-borne crops because plant conformity tended to change in the hands of different breeders. Moreover, scientific and commercial opinions diverged on the value of deviations within crop varieties. I review the function of descriptive difference in the seed trade and in the framework of evolutionary theory before examining the institutional history of varietal standardization. Pimento peppers are used to represent how vegetables were treated differently than cereals. Lack of stability within a popular pimento variety caused problems for food packers in middle Georgia, which public breeders addressed by releasing new peppers. To conclude, the article questions the role of taxonomy in intellectual property, as breeding history and yield became defining attributes for making varietal distinctions.


Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Dominic Berry, Xan Chacko, Susannah Chapman, Helen Curry, Jessica Lee, Hamish MacDonald, and Brad Sherman for their comments on various drafts of this article. This work began at The University of Queensland as part of the Australian Research Council Laureate project ‘Harnessing Intellectual Property to Build Food Security’ (# FL150100104). Matthew Rimmer gave remarks on a very early version of the paper at the Law, Technology, Innovation Junior Scholars Forum at the University of New South Wales, as did the IASH reading group led by Ian Hesketh. I finished the article under the Wellcome Trust project ‘From Collection to Cultivation’ (# 217968/Z/19/Z). Two anonymous reviewers for HPLS provided invaluable feedback, for which I am most grateful. Any errors are mine alone.


Agriculture, Crop diversity, Intellectual property, Standardization, United States, United States, Crops, Agricultural, Agriculture

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Hist Philos Life Sci

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Wellcome Trust (217968/Z/19/Z)
Funding and CC BY public copyright declaration: This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [Grant number 217968/Z/19/Z]. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.