INSIDERS Crop Inspection: The Seed Analyst’s (Mid-Summer Night’s) Dream Job

Crop Inspection: The Seed Analyst’s (Mid-Summer Night’s) Dream Job


Sarah Foster
Sarah Foster
President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 that provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.

As a seed analyst myself, I have worked with many great analysts over the years in Canada and abroad. These are professional, disciplined, dedicated and very talented people, but if there’s one thing we often lack, its having the opportunity to experience the kind of knowledge that comes only from seeing crops up-close in their own environment.

A lot of seed analysts get into this business and they don’t necessarily know what many of the crops looks like in the field. Plant growth, habitat, crop development, who grows them and the challenges of crop production are often a big mystery. There’s a lot to be gained from that knowledge, and the way to get it is from being a crop inspector in addition to being a seed analyst.

A good number of the analysts on our team are also crop inspectors. They enjoy it — they get to know both the customer and the crops they grow on a firsthand basis. This has huge value for companies that require seed testing services as the seed analyst/inspector can be a wealth of good advice.

In my previous Insiders column, I wrote about my experiences traveling to Chile. I just returned from there last week. Part of my role is to analyze seed, but I’m crop inspecting as well when I go there.

I analyze several seed types for purity and germination, but to have my hiking boots on and be out walking the fields is really quite thrilling. Best of all, I can have great conversations with my customers, because I was there where the seed actually grows.

A Chilean soybean field.

In Chile, I provide guidance on varietal contamination and off-types as well as weed seed and species that are difficult to separate from the crop — all components of a recognized field inspection.

I provide assistance with cleaning equipment — setting machines and helping staff find the anomalies that can affect seed quality. Working side-by-side with processors and producers is exciting, because you become a valuable resource through learning the trade. I don’t know if a lot of seed analysts know that. I’ve made myself extremely useful by being both a seed analyst and a crop inspector.

When I walk into a field, I look at it as if that field is a purity sample sitting on my desk. I know the numbers associated with a clean field assessment and what’s allowed in terms of the quantity and the type of undesirable components, and I know what shouldn’t be there. I go into that field having all of that top-of-mind.

Crop inspection allows seed analysts to bring more value to themselves, especially in this world of increasing privatization of services. Seed labs are looking at doing more crop inspection, so for a seed analyst to have that skill is a big asset. It broadens your horizons, and it also makes good financial sense. A lot of analysts work from September to the end of April, and then there’s usually a lull. Unless, that is, they can do crop inspection — it gives them a job for the summer, and some great travel opportunities come with it, as I noted in my previous column.

From an employment aspect, if an analyst also works as a crop inspector for the same seed testing company, it’s really good for everyone involved. You learn all the aspects of seed quality, and that makes you very attractive on the job market.

Being a seed analyst can be more than a laboratory/desk experience. Crop inspection offers something unique that’s really important for both seed analysts and their industry. It rounds out your knowledge base and it opens doors for you to broaden your horizons.