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The seed certification system is designed to preserve the genetic purity and identity of a plant variety. The program is overseen on a state-by-state basis. Each state government has a seed certifying division. Most belong to the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) and adhere to their rules. The program insures that the seed is produced, harvested, cleaned and tested under very strict guidelines. These guidelines include:
Special land requirements: The land must be free of noxious and restricted weeds. The land cannot have been planted to another variety or class of seed that could cross with the variety being planted. The amount of time land must be rested is dependent upon the length of time the previous crop seed or roots maintain viability. Furthermore, the land must be isolated from other fields growing similar but different varieties that could cross- pollinate with the crop.
Planting eligible crops: Eligible crops are governed by each states’ certifying agency. Typically, a crop is eligible if it has passed the review of one of the following review boards:
- Plant Variety Protection Office
(Web site: http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/PVPO/PVPindex.htm)
- National Certified Variety Review Board, a division of AOSCA
- Member agency of the AOSCA
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This is an international organization that, among other responsibilities, helps govern the international exchange of plant varieties
In addition to being approved by one of the above entities, the crop must be deemed to be noninvasive to the region in which it is being planted. Species that are listed on the states noxious weed list are not eligible.
Field inspections: Fields are inspected by the state to insure that they are clean and healthy. Fields may be rejected if they are excessively weedy, have poor stand development, disease, insect damage or other factors that would hinder the quality or genetic purity of the seed.
Harvesting: Certified seed must be harvested with equipment that is not contaminated with other crop or weed seeds.
Conditioning: Certified seed can be cleaned only in cleaning facilities that have passed inspection by the states’ certifying agency. This is to insure that the processing facility exercises practices to keep the seed isolated and to maintain the quality of the variety.
Seed sampling and testing: A sample of the conditioned seed is typically drawn under the auspices of a state representative and tested in an officially recognized seed-testing laboratory.
If the tested seed meets the minimum mechanical requirements for purity and germination that are specified by the state, it is eligible to be certified seed. Each lot of certified seed receives tags that are placed onto the bags. The color of the tag depends upon the generation of seed that was grown. The classes and tag colors are as follows:
Breeder Seed (White tag): This is the first generation seed of the variety. It is directly controlled by the entity releasing the variety.
Foundation seed (White tag): This is seed that is produced from Breeder seed. Foundation seed is typically second-generation seed. However, in the event there is an inadequate quantity of Breeder seed available for multiplying the variety, the certifying agency can designate seed grown on a foundation field as Foundation seed.
Registered Seed (Purple tag): Registered seed is seed that has been produced from Foundation Seed. It is typically third generation seed.
Certified Seed (Blue tag): This is seed produced from Registered or Foundation seed. This is typically fourth generation seed and is the class of seed usually sold for commercial non-production purposes. Seed planted from Blue tagged certified seed is not eligible for re-certification.
Substandard Certified Seed (Blue tag): Seed that has gone through the certification process but has failed the minimum mechanical purity and germination requirements may be tagged as Substandard certified seed. Doing so is completely up to the state certifying agency and is considered on a lot-by-lot basis.
Source Identified Seed (Yellow tag): This is material that has been harvested from natural stands or grown in field production, but has not been tested for its traits. It is produced under the auspices of the state and if it meets the requirements it is labeled as Source Identified Seed. See the section on Source Identified Seed.
Selected Class Seed (Green tag): This is material that exhibits characteristics of a variety but has not been definitively proven to have traits that can be inherited by subsequent generations. It is usually material that is undergoing testing and awaiting conclusions. It may be field produced or harvested from natural stands.