Seed Production & Certification
This involves rigorous evaluation of the crop in the field. Factors such as the isolation of the crop and the purity of the variety are paramount. Instructions are issued to growers to ensure that the highest standards are achieved in the field.
Once the seed is harvested, it is cleaned and moisture levels reduced to maintain viability. The seed then goes through the certification procedure.
Certified seed means exactly what it says; the seed carries a certificate guaranteeing that it reaches statutory standards. These standards are implemented by an Act of Parliament known as the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964, which was subsequently amended by the European Economic Communities Act in 1972, whereby five marketing regulations were made under the Seeds Act by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) – now replaced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Within the UK and EU all merchants have to register with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). They are registered to process, pack and sell seed according to their facilities and technical expertise.
Certified seed within the EU is produced by growers (farmers) growing seed crops for packer/processor merchants under contract. The merchant supplies certified basic seed of a variety for sowing on a specific field which:
- Must have satisfactory previous cropping to avoid contamination from earlier crops.
- Must not be adjacent to fields of other varieties of the same species to avoid contamination by cross-pollination.
The grower is restricted with the varieties he can grow to avoid contamination during harvest, drying and storage.
Small plots of the basic seed are grown on by DEFRA for checking trueness to type. DEFRA’s licensed inspectors inspect all growing crops prior to harvest for trueness of type/weed contamination and satisfactory isolation from crops of the same species. Providing the seed crop reaches the minimum standards it is ‘Field Certified’ and approved for processing.
Immediately after harvest, the moisture content of the produce of the seed crop may be as high as 30-33%. It is slowly and carefully dried down to 12-14% to avoid damaging its germination (ability to grow) capacity. Once dried down to a satisfactory level and after purity and germination tests have been completed, the seed is cleaned by the contracting merchant on sophisticated cleaning plants using aspiration, sieves and cylinders to remove impurities (chaff/soil/weeds, etc.). Providing the re-cleaned seed meets minimum standards for purity and germination (the consumer’s protection), it can become certified. The tests for purity and germination must be carried out by qualified personnel at an official or DEFRA licensed satellite seed testing stations.
For certification, the herbage seed is broken down into maximum lots of 10 tonnes (each lot being separately tested for purity and germination) and each bag contains an official label which gives the following details:
- Species (e.g. perennial ryegrass)
- Variety (e.g. Lorina)
- Date of sealing
- Weight of bag
- Seed lot reference number
The seed lot reference number contains the following information:
- The first number is the last digit of the harvest year
- The second number is the category code
- The registered processor’s number
- A sequential number allocated to the seed lot. It is this sequential number that must be changed after each 10 tonnes of seed has been processed
Only when this process has been completed is the seed merchant able to market the seed and the consumer knows when he/she purchases the seed that it complies with all the legal standards. The seed may be sold as an individual variety or mixed with other varieties/species and, if this happens, the seed merchant must keep accurate records of the constituents of the mixture and declare these to the buyer. New official certification labels are used for the mixture.
Seed merchants are required by law to maintain records of all seed transactions from the production through to the sales for six years. DEFRA officials have the authority to enter a merchant’s premises at any reasonable time to inspect records, draw samples of seed lots intended for sale for check testing at their official seed testing station. If a seed merchant is found to be contravening the regulations, he may be liable for prosecution and in the last resort have his registration withdrawn, thereby being unable to continue to trade in seed.
Certified seeds offer immense protection to the consumer.
Germinal are main agents for the following varieties:
|Turf Type Perennial Ryegrass||CABRIO, CALICO, PROMOTOR, CADIX, ESCAPADE, VESUVIUS, EUGENIUS, CARNAC, VERTECH, ZURICH & GALLEON|
|Fescue Grasses||BORLUNA, MIRADOR, JOANNA, DORIANNA, HIGHNOTE & ABERFLEECE|
|Bent Grasses||ABERROYAL, ABERREGAL, 007 DSB & TYEE|
|Meadow Grasses||TETRIS & SUPREME|
What’s in your bag of grass seed?
All too often we hear horror stories about landscape seeding projects which have failed to establish properly, or where the client has been left underwhelmed by a thin, patchy or unsightly sward. Luckily, the key to ensuring future projects don’t fall foul of the same problem is simply a case of selecting clean, viable and high quality seed lots, sowing at the right time and in the right conditions, and providing adequate water and nutrients.
The fundamentals of seed quality
Irrespective of whether the landscape being seeded is a fine turf lawn, wildflower meadow, communal green area or any other newly sown habitat, the success or failure of a project will be dependent on the quality of the seed being used. Fundamentally there are three areas to focus on:
- The quality of the seed variety selected
- The purity of the seed lot
- The viability or germination rate of the seed lot
Put simply, even a seed mixture containing the highest quality varieties will not perform if the seed itself is old and unable to germinate.
Seed purity and germination rates
Grass and wildflower seeds are sold by weight. As such, the cleaner the seed or the smaller the quantity of impurities such as weed seeds and stalks, the greater the purity of the contents of the bag will be.
A bag of top quality seed that meets HVS (Higher Voluntary Standard) purity will have a purity of approximately 96.5%. At this level, a 20kg bag will only contain 19.3kg of seed, with the remaining 0.7kg made up of undesirable materials – a bit like buying a pint of watered down beer!
Germination is arguably a bigger factor. EU standards dictate that, depending on the species in question, seed must be at least 70-80% viable. At this level, only 14-16kg of seed from a 20kg bag will germinate reliably. Add 0.7kg of impurities and suddenly as little as 13.3kg, or 66.5% of the seed will stand any chance of growing.
Specifying a cheaper bag of seed is therefore a false economy as up to 33.5% of its content will not be fit for purpose.
In contrast, Germinal prides itself on selling only the best quality seed lots, with high purity scores and germination rates typically ranging from 90-95%, with the newest seed lots giving close to 98% germination. In fact, our Grade ‘A’ seed mixtures exceed all current industry standards, meaning more grass seed and less undesirable material. This means:
- Fewer seed drill blockages
- Improved sward uniformity
- Better germination
- Harder wearing swards
- Faster sward establishment
- Easier sward management
It therefore makes sense to specify not only the most appropriate cultivars, but also to purchase from a reputable source which can guarantee the seed’s viability.
As mentioned, the genetic merits of the cultivar chosen will also have a significant impact on the success or failure of a seeding project.
The British Society of Plant Breeders’ (BSPB) turf grass seed booklet is the best source of information in terms of which cultivars are best suited to a specific purpose. This booklet summarises the results of extensive independent trials for a range of amenity grass seeds, from winter sports pitches and summer lawns, to intensively managed and close mown grasses, and ranks each variety according to several key traits and characteristics.
As an example, Cabrio Ultra-Fine Ryegrass is ranked at the top of the BSPB’s list for perennial ryegrasses for use in lawns, landscaping, summer sports and turf trials. Like all perennial ryegrasses, Cabrio is hardwearing. However, unlike most other varieties, Cabrio gives very slow rates of regrowth. This trait makes Cabrio much easier to maintain. This is why Cabrio is included in Germinal’s A22 Low Maintenance mixture – other perennial ryegrasses simply can’t achieve what Cabrio does.
Unfortunately, A22 is our most plagiarised landscape mixture, and all too often we see a lesser variety of perennial ryegrass being used: these seed mixtures might be similar in terms of the species being used, but that is where the similarity ends. By using a mixture with a sub-standard variety in place of Cabrio, you will unwittingly negate the whole reason for selecting A22 in the first place, as it will not be low maintenance.
So, next time you’re specifying a low maintenance landscape mixture, make sure it’s Germinal A22: that way you’ll know you’re getting a reliable and proven seed mixture which will deliver the results expected by even the hardest to please clients.