Anita Hall, Society of Commercial Seed Technologists, executive director, Association of Official Seed Analysts, executive assistant
In the past twenty-five years technical innovations have modernized agriculture beyond recognition. Some of these innovations have included the genetic enhancement of seeds, advances in pesticides and fertilizers and the development of precise and advanced equipment for all phases of production.
Precision planting of seeds has led to changes in the way seed is labeled and sold. Farmers need to know the number of seeds in a bag to properly calibrate planting equipment and to figure out the costs associated with seeding a field. Seed is the product of a natural, biological process and, therefore, is not uniform in size and weight. Differing weather conditions and genetics will result in disparity in the size and weight among and within varieties of seed corn and soybean. In order to compensate for the variability of these seeds, seed companies started to sell seed by seed count rather than by weight. Selling seed by seed count provides farmers the information they need to purchase a specific and accurate amount of seed to plant their fields.
In early 2009 it became apparent that some states had conflicting regulations that could affect how seed count is regulated. Weights and Measures departments reference the National Institute of Standards and Technology Handbook #133, which stipulates a blanket maximum allowed variation (MAV) of 1.5% for all products packaged by count. Seed regulatory programs reference the AOSA Rules for Testing Seeds, Section 12, Mechanical Seed Count, which includes species specific tolerances (or MAV) of 2% for corn, 4% for soybean, 5% for field beans and 3% for wheat. The seed industry needed a consistent standard for regulation of seed count, and the appropriate standard is the AOSA procedure, which was developed specifically for seed and has been the industry standard since AOSA adopted the procedure in 2000.
In response to this need, the American Seed Trade Association recently petitioned the National Conference on Weights and Measures to amend NIST Handbook #133 to adopt the procedures and maximum allowed variations for mechanical seed counts as established in the AOSA Rules for Testing Seeds. The petition was supported by a broad coalition of industry stakeholders. The petition was successful and the procedure will be included in the NIST Handbook #133, which will be published in 2011. The success of this effort is an excellent example of the benefits of stakeholder cooperation and collaboration.
Seed law labeling requirements have not been changed by adoption of the AOSA procedure by NIST. The result of this process is the standardization of methods for regulating seed counts of corn, soybean, wheat and dry bean. Regardless of whether seed count is verified by a seed regulatory official or a weights and measures official the same procedure and tolerances will be applied. Standardization benefits the seed industry by providing a consistent and fair standard of regulation, farmers benefit by having the information they need to efficiently manage their production.