INSIDERS Seed Lab Tours are Hugely Valuable for Everyone Involved

Seed Lab Tours are Hugely Valuable for Everyone Involved


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.

In October, we will be hosting a tour of our main Alberta testing facility. We started doing these tours awhile back to help give people from all walks of the industry some insight into what each of our departments do, and why the tests and services we offer are important.

Taking a tour of a seed lab can have innumerable benefits, and the following are just a few.

1. It brings people together. Whether we have a seed grower, plant manager, farmer, breeder or corporate client attending, the focus is always drawn to their attention to the detail behind seed testing. Science and learning somehow brings people together for that “ah-ha” moment. Unlocking the mystery of the seed, seeing how germination tests are performed and how we go about protecting your livelihood is learned on tour days.

2. The importance of testing is determined. People often think germination is just a number, which they may or may not see on their report of analysis. Often they just send the sample in, and the cleaning plant manager takes care of it. Touring the lab brings people up-close-and-personal with the hows and whys of testing. Often the symptoms on a germination can tell us a lot about the history of the crop. That information alone can save you time and money if the seed lot has issues.

3. Its hands-on. Roll up your sleeves! Touring a lab allows people try their hand (supervised, of course) at using our tools. It’s an opportunity to see not only how we do our work (no, we don’t just put seed on a plate, add water and put it on a windowsill) — it shows the equipment we invest in, the protocols we adhere to and how disciplined and passionate we are about seed.

As someone walks in, they will  see a whole lineup of seed counters, microscopes, mixers, dividers, and from there it broadens into a whole range of specific tests. They see huge walk-in germinators that are like greenhouses. We have several all operating at different temperature regimes. These are monitored closely and if they fail there’s an alarm and backup system.

Touring a seed lab is the ultimate education in what we do as seed analysts. I encourage you to take one, and if your local lab doesn’t offer them, ask them if they’d consider it — for both their own benefit and yours.