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Competency Area 4: Seeding Factors

PO 16. Understand the importance of certified seed in small grain production.

What is Certified Seed?
Seed certification is an independent, third party means of quality control for seed, which ensures varietal identity. Both seed fields and seed lot inspections are required to ensure that high quality standards are applied. The certification process also evaluates seed purity and germination with laboratory testing, allowing growers to calculate a seeding rate.

Generations of Certified Seed:
Breeder Seed – is developed by the plant breeder
Foundation Seed – is grown from Plant Breeder Seed
Registered Seed – is grown from Foundation Seed
Certified Seed – is grown from Foundation or Registered Seed and sold to farmers

Seed Purity and Germination are Assessed and Reported on the Certification Tag
Germination percentage:
A laboratory test is used to classify seeds as normal or dead. Abnormal seeds are classified based on technician experience. This test however will NOT tell you how many plants will establish in the field or produce a harvestable product.
Weed seed content:
The certification tag will give the # of seeds per pound of weed seeds including objectionable or noxious weeds.
Other crop seed content:
Inert material content mixed in the certified seed (i.e. chaff, dirt, broken seed, etc.)

U.S. Federal Seed Act
The U.S. Federal Seed Act establishes minimum quality standards for Certified Seed

  • State standards may be the same or more stringent than the federal standards.
  • Standards vary with the crop

The Federal Seed Act delegates Certification responsibility to State Departments of Agriculture

In New York this is the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. There are similar agencies for other northeastern states. An Official NYS laboratory will only accept samples from New York. The NYS Seed Testing Laboratory is part of the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY (

certified seed tag

Click to enlarge

Certified Seed Tag
The following information is listed on the Certified Seed tag:

  • Kind (crop)
  • Variety or hybrid name
  • Seed test results and date (both germination and purity results)
  • State or country of origin
  • Seed producer or seed company
  • Any restrictions on use of seed or crop

This information, on the seed tag, allows calculation of the amount of “pure live seed” in a bag:

Pure live seed is seed of the advertised crop kind and variety that should germinate. It does not include: weed seed, other crop seed, or inert material.

% pure seed = 100% - (% weed seed + % other crop seed + % inert material)
% pure live seed = % pure seed * % germination

Allows accurate calculation of seeding rates
A 50 lb bag of seed that has 90% pure seed and 90% germination will contain:

50 lb * 0.90 * 0.90 = 40.5 lb pure live seed

Certified Seed Crops in New York

  • Alfalfa
  • Grasses (some)
  • Barley Oat
  • Buckwheat
  • Potato
  • Corn (some)
  • Soybean
  • Dry Bean
  • Wheat

Crops Certified in Maine

  • Alfalfa
  • Grasses (some)

These appear to be the only northeastern states with crop certification programs in place at this time

Importance of Certified Seed for small grains, soybean, buckwheat

You get the variety advertised with no varietal mixtures or drift. Seed is of high quality for good stands, and you know you are not planting noxious weeds.  There may be a few, if any, objectionable weed seeds included. The seed will also contain few, if any, off types or other crops. Certified seed should have good germination (the rate is listed on the label). The grower knows the seed has been inspected and is certified by an official seed certification agency such as the New York State Seed Improvement Project in New York. This program has been set up to ensure all the previously mentioned quality control standards are in place.

Some seed companies have strong internal quality control programs, but the seed is not certified. If purchasing seed from such a company, buyers should make certain the company has high quality control measures. Good seed pays!! Poor seed costs!!

Seed testing in New York

An Official NYS laboratory will only accept samples from New York.

Costs for farm seeds vary depending on crop kind:

  • Germination test: $10.00 per sample on average
  • Purity test: cost is highly variable depending on crop kind
  • Combined germination and purity test is usually a bit less than the sum of both costs