We are happy to share a guest post from: Michelle Klieger at Stratagerm who is an experienced seed consultant. To find out more about Michelle or Strategerm check out their website here.
Seeds are such an important part of your farm. You plant these tiny seeds and they eventually grow into the vegetables you will harvest. They are a critical input and they aren’t cheap. I’m going to explain what you’re paying for and what you get when you order seeds from your favorite seed supplier. That’s what I do: I help farmers better understand seeds, so they can grow better produce!
First things first, we are going to talk about two different types of seed companies today. There are integrated seed companies that research new varieties, grow their own seed, market that seed, and sell it to you. These companies comb through 100’s of different seeds each year, looking for new varieties that are even better than the ones you bought last year. This process takes a long time, but the result is new varieties.
The other type of company is a company that distributes seeds. These companies have relationships with breeding companies all over the world. The product team meets with seed breeders and learns about all the new seed varieties available. The distributor might purchase small quantities of the seeds that they think you will like the best. They will test or trial the seeds on their own farmers and then decide which seeds to showcase in their upcoming catalog. When you flip through the catalog you are getting a curated selection of seeds. The goal is to do a lot of the pre-sorting, so you only see a small fraction of the seed available… the portion most likely to succeed on your farm.
Since both companies have experience growing the seeds, they can answer your questions. They know how the plant grew. They can compare it to other plants or vegetables that they have grown in the past. This knowledge and experience is often another perk of working with a reputable seed company. These companies provide ongoing customer service to their customers.
Have you called the seed company and asked for advice on which seeds to grow? Have you read their website or other printed materials to learn when the best time to plant your seeds are? Or ask questions about when or how to harvest the vegetables? This ongoing customer service is a service that many companies offer. These full-service seed suppliers might charge higher prices than a hardware store, but you get curated catalogues and the ongoing support that is valuable to growers of all experience levels.
I am not suggesting that integrated companies are better or worse than distribution companies. They both sell high quality seed, because they implement a lengthy quality assurance program to ensure only healthy seed is sent to you. Some of these requirements are federally mandated and others are industry best practices.
Purity and Sprouting
The Federal Seed Act requires that companies include the type of seed, the purity level of the seed, and the germination rate on the bag. Germination rates vary depending on the crop, but most seed must meet an 85% germination level to be sold. I’m guessing you’ve seen these labels on your seed bags. They come on every bag of seed from tiny home gardener packets all the way to 50-pound, commercial bags of seeds.
The label tells you what you are getting high purity (only the type of seed you paid for) and high germination rate (the seeds are viable and will sprout). The company has labs that check the genetic purity and the germination rate of the samples.
Pests and Diseases
Seeds can carry pests and diseases. They can either live inside the seed or on top of the seed. If infected seeds are planted they could introduce the disease to your farm and cause problems to your plants. Selling you a sick seed is bad for business. Companies have rigorous quality management practices including many different types of seed testing to make sure you only get healthy seeds.
Getting the Seed to You
Most of the seed you purchase is grown outside of the United States. This requires import permits, extra seed testing, and most likely conversations with Customs and Border Patrol. If you are not handling these steps, then your seed company is doing it for you. If this process does not go smoothly then the seed could be held at the port or sent back, which might prevent you from planting on time. Some people purchase directly from overseas sales teams, but then they have to navigate this process themselves.
Harvest to Storage
Seed is grown outside and for the most part it is harvested in the fall. During the winter the seed is cleaned, tested, sorted, and repackaged for commercial sale. You can start buying that seed in late winter. You might purchase some in the winter and place a second order the following summer. The seed company stored the seed until you were ready for it. Since seeds are living, they need to be stored in proper conditions. The exact conditions vary from crop to crop, but most seeds maintain the highest germination levels and stay pest-free if they are stored in cool places.
Pelleting and Seed Treatments
There are many products that can be placed on a seed. Some make the seed easier to handle, for example, pelleted seed. A coating is placed on the seed until it is round. The pelleting makes the seed easier to handle for both mechanically and hand-seeded farms.
Seed treatments are a tiny amount of a synthetic or biological chemical applied to the seed. Treatments accomplish different things. Some help the seed grow by providing extra nutrition, while others protect the seed from insects that are trying to eat it.
Behind the Scenes
As you can see there is a lot of behind the scenes work that takes place to ensure that you are planting high-quality, healthy seed that will turn into great produce! If you have questions about anything covered in this article, please let me know! I’m happy to explain further.
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