Starting with the Best

by | Nov 10, 2017 | Plant Breeding

Quality assurances of varietal purity, germination and freedom from impurities are just a few reasons why certified seed represents a good value proposition for farmers.

Know what you grow. Rob Graf believes the old adage not only holds true for summing up the value of certified seed, but it is even more important in today’s world of ever-improving genetics.

“With certified seed, there are very definite and deliberate procedures put in place to make sure that within relatively tight tolerances the variety that’s being purchased is true to type,” says Graf, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist and wheat breeder at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta.

It’s these requirements, he adds, that ensure producers get the enhanced traits they expect when they purchase a specific variety of certified seed. Improvements in such areas as yield, pest resistance and drought tolerance can take millions of dollars and years of R&D, and it is only through certified seed that they can be reliably accessed.

“I’m a wheat breeder, and we’re constantly looking at developing varieties with higher yields and good agronomic characteristics and improved disease resistance,” says Graf. “Pedigreed seed is the avenue by which you can legally acquire seed which has these new genetics.”

Ron Markert is a certified seed producer in Vulcan, Alta. The president of Markert Seeds Ltd., who also serves on the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) board, says those who grow and process pedigreed seed are always striving to provide growers with the highest performing products.

Ron Markert

“If you want to keep on top of the game now in farming, you have to have the best of everything in terms of genetics,” Markert says. “Margins are very tight in the agricultural sector and you have to be as efficient as you can. One way to do that is to seed the best genetics. Newer varieties can offer a higher yield, disease resistance, insect tolerance and many other agronomic characteristics that will help increase your bottom line.”

“As growers of certified seed… we are expected to meet very stringent standards, rules and regulations to ensure that the purity of that variety is maintained,” Markert adds. “Farmers are after a quality product, so if we can’t deliver that, they won’t continue to buy.”

How is Certified Seed Produced

According to the CSGA website, the pedigree of a certified seed crop is documented on paper from the breeding establishment to commercial sale. Testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) accredited seed labs is used to confirm the seed purity and germination of all certified seed crops.

Pedigreed seed producers must follow strict standards for isolation distances and land-use history, as well as maximum levels of off-type varieties, other crop kinds and weeds. Years of planning which crop will be planted where is also required, as well as cleaning seeders and combines between plots and fields, cleaning augers and storage facilities between varieties, and weeding and roguing plots and fields to remove off-types and weeds from the pedigreed seed crop.

In the field, third-party inspections overseen by CFIA verify the isolation of the seed crop and that it was produced from a higher-level progeny. The absence of volunteer crops and off-type varieties is also confirmed. In addition, random sampling is conducted in pedigreed seed processing plants to ensure seeds are free from weeds and other crop kinds.

Graf says the result of all this is that growers know that what they’re putting into the ground is quality seed.

“It’s inspected for purity, it’s inspected for germination, it’s inspected for weed seeds, and here in Alberta there’s a zero tolerance for Fusarium gramineaum,” he says. “All of these factors make certified seed a value proposition for farmers.”

Rob Graf

Growers who choose to buy common seed or use farm-saved seed often do it to try to save money, but Graf says that strategy can be short-sighted. Not only is there the expense of cleaning farm-saved seed to consider, but the price for not using certified seed could be lower-performing crops and weed-infested fields in the future.

“If a farmer is growing several different varieties of the same crop and they’re not cleaning their combine out and so on, over a number of years you will get some contamination that you may not even be aware of. The same goes for the amount of weeds,” Graf says.

Markert agrees that certified seed provides excellent value for growers.

“I can certainly tell you that over the years that we’ve been growing certified seed, farmers are getting a bargain because of all the work that we have to do,” Markert says. “There’s a lot that goes into producing that pure crop. Everything has to be very meticulously controlled to make sure farmers get what we tell them they’re going to get.”

Markert says he’s found that more and more growers, especially the larger ones, are recognizing the benefits of certified seed.

“They just realized that, ‘you know, I could use bin run seed to save a buck but it’s just not worth it. I might as well buy certified seed. Then I know I’m getting quality seed, and in return I’m going to get a better price in the end when I market my product.’”