Recently, there have been concerns about seed testing standards, or a lack of. Companies might send a seed sample to one lab for a test and get one result, and if that same sample is sent to a different lab, they could get a different result. I realize these results directly impact business, seed availability, seed price and company profitability. Any error or discrepancy among labs could result in a loss of seed or even fines.
As part of the seed testing industry, I take this issue very seriously. There is a lack of standardization around certain tests, and this has been recognized globally by the International Seed Testing Association and is being fixed. Seed companies need to be able to depend on the test results and trust they are accurate.
But the seed testing industry is at an impasse. I started to touch on this in my previous column, Seed Technologists Need to Increase Exposure and Expand Education.
In short, the seed testing industry struggles to recruit talented, educated employees; lacks educational programming outside of on-the-job training; and pays little for the skills and knowledge one must possess.
Seed analysts are highly trained with technical proficiency in many areas including plant and seed taxonomy, systematics, anatomy, physiology, cellular biology, microbiology, pathology, chemistry, entomology and nematology, to name a few. They must pay attention to detail, and exercise dexterity, patience and good judgment. Seed analysts must have an exceptional understanding of seed regulations, both here at home and abroad, and they must be able to explain their results with confidence to clients.
Meanwhile, the seed industry as a whole is advancing at a pace never seen before, using new technologies and breeding methods to deliver more new products to the market. This means new testing methods must be developed, and new standards must be deployed across tests and across labs.
It costs labs a lot of money to acquire these proficiencies — think what it would be if we didn’t have these.
If seed testing companies want to be in business, you have to implement standard procedures and acquire certifications and proficiencies. Why would you entertain something that wouldn’t stand up in the court of law? We are a litigious society.
From my vantage point, seed companies get a lot for $20, the average price of a germination test — the fundamental test needed for basic crop protection. But seed testing, for the most part, is seen as a necessary evil.
Perhaps, something that is cheap is seen as having no value. It’s an extremely competitive environment, and economically the cost of the test compared to the worth of the crop is completely out of line.
Add up the tens of thousands of dollars spent on liability insurance, accreditation, quality management systems and human resources; the seed testing industry is becoming a sweatshop. If we as an industry continue with this factory or “Wal-Mart” mentality, the seed testing industry will eventually implode, and the problems will only get worse.