The Challenges of Native Seed Testing

- Richard Agnew

Native seed is considered to be native to a given region or locality and which hasn’t been introduced from a foreign locale or country. Although it plays an important role in the seed industry, I often receive puzzled looks when the topic of native seed testing comes up.

The challenges start even at harvest. In many cases, native seed is harvested manually. Its environment can be a mountainside, meadow or even a swamp. Some native seed could occupy a few acres or even a few square miles. While the collector is looking for one predominant species to harvest, there may be hundreds of companion plants which may be useful or weeds that may range from common to prohibited noxious. Harvested samples are sent to a seed testing lab, where they will be physically separated out by pure seed, other crops, weeds, and inert matter.

Native seed poses the additional challenge of identifying other crop seeds within that sample for its particular use. The other contaminant species have to be identified as whether they are common weed or noxious weed, depending on their uses and the destination. Common weed in one state can be a noxious weed in another. When other crops seed exceeds 5 percent of one species other than the predominant species, the sample needs to be labeled as a mix.

After the purity has been performed, a viability test such as a Germ or TZ must be performed for labeling purposes and in order to sell the seed. With native seed, we may deal with extreme dormancy or hard seed. Established protocols to germinate native seed are used regularly with success.

However, there might be a need to change methods from time to time — for instance, with the onset of GMO crops and the introduction of new varieties. Such protocols have been created through the diligence and hard work of many analysts associated with AOSA, SCST, Canadian M&S and ISTA and integrated in the rules book of those organizations.

If not altered, the purity will remain unchanged but the germination must follow state and federal laws for labeling and sales. With all advances made, native seed testing is still in its infancy and a work in progress. Having proficient analysts and the required equipment to test many different species is a must.