The Importance of Certified Seed

You grow it, so why not use it? Seed, that is. It gets all the right care at the right time by the best grower you know – you. It can be sold easily into the commercial channel to, eventually, end up on a consumer plate somewhere in the world, so why not just reseed it the following year?

Well, a lot of growers certainly do just that, year after year. And generally, they will not notice that they are hampered in any way by doing this. So, what is all the fuss over certified seed?

First, understand what certified seed is. It’s not just seed grown by a seed grower who takes a little better care of it than you might – well, he doesn’t have so many acres to manage perhaps? No. There’s a lot more to certified seed that just a little extra TLC.

According to the Canadian Seed Growers Association, “Certified seed is the product of a production process designed to deliver specific plant breeding achievements to farmers and the food industry. In other words, it is true-to-type.”

And not just anyone can throw out a shingle and announce him or herself “Seed Grower Extraordinaire.”  Growers only become seed growers after passing through a rigorous process and certification. They must adhere to stringent requirements and annual monitoring of their production and quality. Finally, their production will only become certified seed and be Blue Tag worthy if it meets stringent minimum quality requirements.

“It is true that certified seed does come with minimum quality standards,” says Mitchell Japp, Saskatchewan provincial cereal specialist. “However, most of the seed growers I know market their seed above those standards in order to keep their customers satisfied.”

“The biggest benefit of certified seed has to be variety purity,” says Japp. “After that, clean seed free from impurities – albeit within specified tolerances – are what make it more reliable than bin run seed.”

Apart from those advantages, certified seed also brings with it decades of innovation by plant breeders right here on the Prairies, breeding seed to excel in our unique conditions. “It’s a good investment in new genetics,” agrees Japp. “Growers can take advantage of yield advancements or yield preservation through disease resistance for example, and get more, high quality grain in the bin.”

What every grower wants is to get the crop to emerge fast, vigorously, and evenly. If that is achieved, the rest of the management for the growing season is that much easier. The canopy fills in quicker reducing weeds. The plants can withstand more stresses and will tend to ripen evenly to facilitate harvest.

Farm-saved seed is grown on farm, but it’s not free. It still needs to be cleaned, tested, and treated. The grower has to give up valuable time and logistics to get that done on time, as well as forego selling it commercially. This year, spring is shaping up to be very busy, with some crop yet to come off. Time is a valuable commodity for a grower in the spring.

Last year challenged every grower, seed and commercial grower alike. There may be more demand for certified seed in 2017, but even leaving that aside, Japp advises growers to request mechanical and disease analyses for the seed they are buying. “Those seed crops are subject to the same diseases and stresses as the commercial crop, so ensure you are buying top quality seed.”

Japp also reminds growers that varieties protected with Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) can only, effectively, be sold by the seed grower. Most of the recommended varieties in the seed guide are now PBR protected. “If PBR is not in place, then seed can be sold by others but only by class, not by variety name.” And if you don’t know for sure what you are buying…it’s advisable not to buy it.