There are 42 official seed certifying agencies in the U.S. (The major agriculture states have uniquely structured agencies.) The Missouri Crop Improvement Association (MCIA) is an independent organization, offering third-party services in seed certification, quality assurance, identity preserved and source identified. MCIA conducts inspection and testing on several hundred brands and varieties of more than 100 different crop types. It runs a quality assurance verification program, authorized by state law but is not a state agency or university organization. It stands alone and works strictly in the field of seed production. “We’re the unbiased link between the seed company and the farmer-end user,” says Richard Arnett, executive director of MCIA.
The process of seed certification varies by state but centers around a series of inspections, testing and audits. “Seed goes through one of our programs for certification or quality assurance and we make sure the seed is as advertised. There are prescribed minimum standards to be met before the seed can be marketed as certified or given quality assurance,” Arnett says.
The process isn’t mandatory unless the owner of a new variety applies for protection under the Plant Variety Protection Act and the seed is required to be certified. The seed industry is shaped by a host of issues in flux, including regulations, access to new traits and foreign market troubles, Arnett explains.
State associations also differ in crop concentration. The Kansas Crop Improvement Association (KCIA) focuses on hard red and hard white winter wheat. KCIA is also set up for traceability and distribution of seed to the farmer.
A KCIA member-grower with legal access to a variety submits an application for certification, and prior to harvest, a KCIA inspector walks the fields and checks varietal purity. Steve Schuler, executive director of KCIA, says his inspectors also keep an eye out for noxious weeds, which results in a field rejection if uncontrolled. Rye and triticale must also be absent before a wheat field passes inspection.
Once fields are approved, a farmer can harvest and get seed cleaned for testing. KCIA requires a 10 lb. sample for every 5,000 bu. Inspectors go through the entire sample looking for weed seed. After successful inspection, growers receive a certificate of inspection signifying seed available for sale as certified and in what amount. “It’s an authorization to sell seed on an official KCIA label. Foundation is a white and black label; registered seed is a purple label; and certified class is a blue label,” Schuler says.
“When a customer sees the certified seed emblem or the quality assurance emblem, they know somebody has inspected, tested and run the seed through the wringer to make sure it’s the quality advertised,” Arnett adds.