Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, [email protected]
Contact: Dr. John Sweeten, 806-677-5600, [email protected]

VERNON – Texas A&M AgriLife Research lost a tremendous asset July 27 when Steve Brown, Texas Foundation Seed Service program director in Vernon, was killed in a car accident.

Steve Brown was a frequent speaker at field days as the Texas Foundation Seed Service program director in Vernon. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Kay Ledbetter)


Funeral arrangements are being handled by Sullivan Funeral Home, 1801 Houston St. in Vernon. Visitation will be from 6-7 p.m. July 29 in the chapel of the funeral home. The funeral service will be at 10 a.m. July 30 in First Baptist Church at 2003 Fannin St.  Burial will be in Eastview Cemetery.

“There are no words to express the sorrow I feel in the sudden tragic death of my friend and colleague Steve Brown,” said Dr. Bill McCutchen, executive associate director of AgriLife Research in College Station. “Steve was the consummate professional and a leader of innovative strategies that helped lead to the rejuvenation of the small grains and cropping systems programs across the agency.

“He had a way of working with people to develop personal relationships. His impacts on Texas A&M are reverberating across the nation and now the world. He worked tirelessly with faculty, unit heads, stakeholders and industry leaders to advance improved plant varieties, and he was loved and respected by everyone he met and touched.”

Brown became program director of Texas Foundation Seed Service in the fall of 2001 after spending 27 years in private sector agribusiness. During his time in the private sector, he managed a diversified company involved with seed production and distribution, commercial grain operations and livestock feed manufacturing.

At Texas Foundation Seed Service, he worked closely with the various plant breeding programs within Texas A&M AgriLife Research and private sector companies interested in licensing AgriLife Research plant material improvements.

He also worked with the Texas A&M University System’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Texas A&M AgriLife’s Corporate Relations Office to help develop distribution plans to make AgriLife’s plant developments available to producers in Texas and beyond.

“Under Steve’s service as director of the Texas Foundation Seed Service, the royalties from commercial sales of small grains varieties increased 15-fold from when he took over,” said Dr. John Sweeten, AgriLife Research resident director at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Centers in Amarillo and Vernon.

Additionally, Brown was instrumental in the collection of royalties from other plant varieties, including various grasses, sorghums, peanuts, forages and corn. These were not collected prior to his involvement, and by 2015 they amounted to more than $1.5 million.

Brown oversaw the foundation seed increase of various Texas A&M AgriLife-developed crops, including wheat, oats, triticale, canola, cool-season grasses, peanuts and hibiscus flowers.

Foundation seed is the first step in the commercial process. All TAM small grains varieties are licensed to and marketed by private industry, as AgriLife Research and Texas A&M are in the business of developing new varieties, a process that can take many years, but are not a commercial seed company.

Brown once explained that the Texas Foundation Seed Service’s role was to take a new variety from the research program and increase the seed to a large enough quantity to make it available to a commercial seed company that licenses the new variety.

The foundation seed step is designed to assure seed purity and variety integrity during the commercial life of the variety, Brown added. He was passionate about protecting that integrity even after the seed was commercialized.

“Infringers (on the Plant Variety Protection Act) are getting a free ride at the wheat developer’s expense and are reducing opportunities for new varieties to be developed that ultimately benefit wheat producers throughout Texas and beyond,” Brown said recently.

Those throughout the Texas A&M University System and industry who worked closely with Brown said his absence will be felt for many years.

“I have no words to express my sorrow,” said. Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo who worked closely with Brown on many TAM wheat releases. “He was a friend and an irreplaceable member of our wheat team.”

Rodney Mosier, executive vice president of Texas Wheat Producers Board in Amarillo, said, “Steve was an innovative leader in the Texas seed industry. His input and support of the board’s statewide research program was highly valued and he will be greatly missed. Texas wheat producers will continue to benefit from his efforts for many years.”

“Steve was dedicated, animated and a great contributor to Texas agriculture,” said Dr. Sandy Pierson, Texas A&M University plant pathology and microbiology department head in College Station. “His absence will be deeply felt by all of us.”

“Not only as a giant in his field and an integral member of Texas A&M, but also as a great person and friend of many of us, Steve will be greatly missed,” said Dr. Amir Ibrahim, AgriLife Research small grains breeder/geneticist in College Station.

Brown was active on both internal and external committees involving the seed industry and intellectual property. His internal committee service included seats on AgriLife’s Intellectual Property Management and Commercialization Team and the Plant Release Committee, the Small Grains Advisory Committee and the Texas Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.

Externally, he served as chair of the Small Grains and Grass Committee for Texas Seed Trade Association and on the association’s board of directors. Also, he was a past chairman of the Cotton, Peanut and Sunflower Committee for the Association of Official Seed Certification Agencies and worked closely with seed certification agencies in many states across the U.S.

“Steve was a great person and an important member of the Texas A&M University System,” said Dr. Lloyd “Ted” Wilson, Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center director at Beaumont. “I will miss him dearly as a colleague and friend.”

Sweeten, who also serves as the Small Grains Advisory Committee chair, said Brown mentored many faculty members working with plant genetics and breeding, and was a valuable member of the statewide committee.

“Steve possessed a ‘street credibility’ from his years in the private seed industry that brought realism to the scientific processes of creating and developing new plant varieties and bringing them into the marketplace,” Sweeten said.

“Sometimes his best advice was, ‘No.’ But also words of encouragement from Steve Brown sparked vision and motivation in many a scientist. He was unafraid to wear the black hat when the situation called for it, such as vigorously pursuing and protecting plant varieties that met his threshold criteria for a significant advancement in the marketplace.”