By Chris Kick–Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
AMES, Iowa – Farmers have many options for improving and increasing yields throughout the growing season, but the most important factor is arguably to start with quality seed.
There are roughly 800 private seed companies in the United States and about 75 within Iowa – all that make claims about the quality of their seed and how well it will perform for the producer. Many of these companies rely on sound science, much of which is based on tests conducted by the Seed Science Center at Iowa State University.
A world-renowned center for testing seed, the Seed Science Center has provided objective, research-based information for the United States and countries around the world for more than 100 years.
Unlike the United States, where seed businesses are privately owned and operated, the governments in many countries produce, distribute, and market seeds, as well as regulate the seed industry. One of the center’s goals is to help other countries reexamine their seed laws, which in some cases are antiquated and in need of an update.
In the U.S., certified seed for exports are required to follow the National Seed Health System – which provides standardized phytosanitary tests so that all accredited labs use the same methods of testing. The Seed Science Center administers this program on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture. Certification is required to export seeds internationally, and the U.S. exports about $1.7 billion in seed annually.
Although they have a global footprint, the center is committed to farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest. Farmers and other individuals can bring seed in for testing at their leisure, or send it through the mail, in properly packaged bags.
“We help people all over the world, but we are very Iowa-centric,” said Manjit Misra, director of the Seed Science Center. “When Iowa needs something, we are here.”
Cynthia Hicks, communications specialist for the center, said seed testing was especially active during the COVID pandemic, because the center was one of the few testing sites that remained open.
The center operates an extensive laboratory that can test for seed purity, germination and vigor, with more than 350 tests for pathogens. If a test is needed but does not exist, the staff at the center can develop one. There is a fee for such testing and it varies by the seed type and the test.
The center also provides training and educational opportunities for seed producers and companies, including for those who clean, condition, and bag seed. About 30 workshops are provided annually (in-person and online) in the United States and around the world.
A newsletter called the “Iowa Seed and Biosafety News” is also available and is emailed to subscribers annually in more than 50 countries.
Seed programs are also available for undergraduate and graduate students, including a unique Seed Technology and Business master’s program, which is offered online to students around the world.