Successful sowing with crop improvement NC | Crop and Soil Sciences
The quality control in our food system goes completely unnoticed until you discover a sachet of lime gelatin in an orange box, all the yellow M&M in your bag, or worse. It’s about meeting customer (and regulatory) expectations every time.
In the 1920s, farmers often wondered what there was their bags of seeds when crops have failed to reliably produce the intended varieties. The North Carolina legislature responded to frustrated farmers by forming the NC Crop Improvement Association in 1929 to address the truth in agricultural seed labeling.
At first, the seeds were frequently sold under false labels as a named cultivar, but the offspring of which failed to produce a semblance of the namesake. Low production and inconsistent crops threatened the livelihoods of farmers. For over 90 years, NC Crop Improvement has strived to protect plant breeding improvements and provide truth in labeling to farmers.
Protect farm improvements
As 20th century crop science and plant breeding accelerated, NC Crop Improvements stepped up efforts by creating the Official Variety Testing Program to test and document the performance of new and improved varieties. Later, they also formed NC Foundation Seed Producers, to produce and distribute improved plant varieties.
Today, farmers can plant certified seed with the confidence that what is on the bag is fine. in he.
“Over the past 50 years, substantial gains have been made in yield capacity, disease resistance and quality attributes for many products,” said Ramsey Lewis, Professor of Tobacco Breeding and Genetics to the state of North Carolina. “Improved combinations of these traits are very beneficial for producers as they positively affect the economy of production. Improved plant varieties allow producers to maintain profitability and, in some cases, expand market opportunities. “
The sheer complexity of plant life makes plant breeding difficult and rewarding. Many of the economically interesting traits that breeders (and growers) might wish to affect are affected by a huge number of genes. Influencing one plant trait often impacts others, sometimes negatively, and improving multiple traits simultaneously is easier said than done.
“Plant breeders work their entire careers to make gains on various plant traits,” said Bill Foote, director of NC Crop Improvement. “We want to give these varieties their best chance to function without being ruined by poor seed production. “
The value of seed certification
One of the benefits of seed certification is the longevity of cultivars. “If a variety is pollinated with unwanted pollen or mixed with another variety during conditioning, it can become ‘dirty’ and unstable in its characteristics. The best way to keep varieties clean and unique is with certified production, ”said Foote.
He cites the Covington sweet potato variety (obtained in the state of North Carolina) as a prime example. “He has dominated the market for 15 years. This is unheard of. It’s because [NC State’s] the micropropagation laboratory maintains the vegetative planting stock virus-free and genetically close to the original plant.
Some farmers treat seed-borne diseases with pre-seed treatments. But this does not guarantee genetic purity. “We’re here to make sure growers get what they want from research on these varieties,” Foote said.
The benefits of clean seeds and genetic reliability are doubly important for organic growers who have fewer tools to control disease. “They definitely benefit from starting with fewer problems,” Foote said. “We believe in the motto ‘Start clean, stay clean.’ “
Certified seeds not only guarantee genetic preservation but also the quality of the seeds. Certified seed should be virtually disease free, provide proven germination rates and contain a minimum of weed seed.
No crossover area
To obtain the official blue “certified” seed label, the seed must be produced to strict standards. First, it must come from a distinct, uniform and stable variety as reviewed by NC Crop Improvement or an international board of directors.
Certified growers must also start their seed crops with a certifiable seed source, usually from basic seed (produced directly from the breeder’s stock). NC Crop Improvement field inspectors visit growers’ locations at least once per season to verify the characteristics of the seed variety.
The most important element of the certified production protocol is the isolation in the field of the potential contaminating pollen. Based on a culture’s known predisposition to allogamy, crop isolation distances differ considerably between cultures. “It depends on how far the pollen is flowing,” Foote said. For wheat, which is not known to cross, the distance between varieties can be as small as 10 feet compared to hemp which needs to be isolated three to 10 miles depending on the state.
Once the seeds have been harvested and packaged, they must be tested in the laboratory to verify their purity and germination before finally receiving a certified label and being authorized for commercial sale. Seed producers are also subject to spontaneous audits of records and samples. The process creates a reliable paper trail documenting the variety and its strict cultivation from field to bag.
“Our rigorous certification process is like an ISO quality program,” said Foote with a smile. “But we got there first.”
Adoption varies among cultivated species
The use of certified seed (or vegetative tissue such as in sweet potato) varies by crop and farm. Peanuts and tobacco know the highest use of certified seeds with nearly 100% of NC production.
“The disease in these cultures is not tolerable. Starting with genetically pure (or nearly) pure seed is an assurance that farmers start with clean stocks, ”said Foote.
Small grains are estimated at around 50% of certified production, and sweet potatoes and turf at around 33%. Other crops like soybeans and corn are almost zero.
While some farmers choose to save seeds for planting, this is not possible for all crop varieties. Most varieties of corn are hybrids and will not reliably produce real from seed. But other crops, even those from public breeding programs, are patented or licensed to produce, meaning growers are not legally allowed to reproduce seeds. Foote says the multiple types of variety protection allow varieties to stay true to growers’ expectations.
Serving the seed industry
NC Crop Improvement certifies seed production on over 100,000 acres of land in North Carolina. The nonprofit program is largely funded by seed growers’ fees and often contributes to North Carolina state plant breeding programs through annual grants.
Foote says the biggest challenge for his group is keeping pace with the volume of new varieties released each year and anticipating the future of the industry.
“We are here to serve the common good of our producers. Certified seeds are the best guarantee for a farmer of the most predictable and potential result. We believe that trust pays for itself.
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