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Watch Out for Seed Quality Issues

March 9, 2016

Farmers need to take care to acquire and plant high-quality seed in the upcoming season, advises Ken Bertsch, North Dakota’s state seed commissioner.

“Growers and seed suppliers are in the midst of preparations for planting season, including the conditioning, sale and delivery of seed,” Bertsch says. “Given the current economic environment in agriculture, the natural tendency is to save money on each acre planted. We always maintain that seed is the one input in which you can’t afford mistakes, including the purchase of cheap or low-quality products.”

Field crop performance primarily is related to the genetic characteristics of the variety and the adaptability of the variety to a geographic area’s environment. Seed quality issues affect the emergence, vigor and health of developing stands of all crops.

Bertsch encourages growers to take notice of these factors as they make planting decisions:

  • Pay close attention to the seed label. Germination, purity and seed count all contribute to the final stand count, which is important in today’s precision planting environment. Know each variety’s optimum plant population and how the label claim, especially in regard to germination and seed count, will equate to viable plant populations.

If using on-farm or bin-run seed, have the seed tested at an accredited laboratory for germination, purity and seed health issues. For example, test barley seeds for loose smut. Trained seed analysts can determine seed viability; what may look like a germinating seed in a home germ test may not produce a viable seedling under field conditions. Analysts also can identify the presence of weed seed, including perennial or noxious types, present in the sample.

  • Work with a reliable seed retailer. A seed label or bulk certificate (with required seed testing information) will be provided at point of sale, and the variety protection status also should be clearly labeled. State and federal law requires that all seed offered for sale must be labeled, and North Dakota seed law requires sellers to be licensed by the Seed Department to label and market seed in the state.

“We’ve identified what could be considered roving seed dealers operating in North Dakota,” Bertsch says. “These individuals or companies should be treated with caution and reported to the State seed Department, where we can determine labeling compliance and whether seed is being marketed legally.”

  • Understand and respect variety protection laws. Nearly every seed source is protected by the variety owner under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) or plant patent. The use of on-farm seed is legal in some cases, most often related to cereal crops. That use only applies if the seed has been acquired legally, meaning the farmer replants only the seed he purchased in a previous planting season.

“There is virtually no scenario where a farmer-to-farmer transfer of non-certified seed, commonly called brown-bagging, is legal under variety protection laws,” Bertsch says. “Additionally, other technology agreements protecting a variety or trait may be in place.”

For example, Certified Seed Only (CSO) agreements also are becoming more common in the industry. These contracts restrict the replanting of seed in a subsequent year, and violation of the agreement may be subject to civil action.

North Dakota state seed laws provide for a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the PVPA. These provisions can affect the seller, purchaser or conditioner involved in illegal use of protected seed varieties.

Variety owners, including public institutions such as North Dakota State University, also are able to file civil actions and obtain triple damages on seed sold and grain produced from the seed planted illegally. Violation of the PVPA and/or variety owner intellectual property rights can result in enforcement penalties and legal costs to the violator.

“Seed produced under strict inspection and testing regimes found in seed certification programs are the industry standard for quality control,” Bertsch says. “Certified seed represents your best opportunity for good field performance, especially under difficult conditions. There is no replacement for high-quality seed, and no second chance if you start with a poor product.”

Questions regarding seed quality, testing, variety protection or seed laws can be directed to the North Dakota State Seed Department at (701) 231-5400. State seed laws may be found in North Dakota Century Code Chapter 4.1-53 or at

Source: Ken Bertsch and Kelli Armbruster, North Dakota State University