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Seed Certification Scheme

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) is the certifying authority for Seed Certification in Ireland. The scheme covers seed production and marketing for the main agricultural crops. Crop species include fodder plants, cereals, beet, potatoes, vegetables and oil and fibre plants.  Seed production rules and guidelines are set down in detailed operational manuals. The scheme is partly funded through the collection of fees charged for services provided by the DAFF to seed assemblers and growers.

In Ireland, a number of seed agents are responsible for the multiplication of seed of the various varieties. These agents select the varieties to be multiplied in Ireland. Certified seed is imported for those crop species for which Irish climatic conditions are unsuited to seed production.

Some varieties of potatoes and grasses certified in Ireland are Irish bred, however varieties of other crop species certified in Ireland mostly originate from other European breeders.

Entry of Seed for Certification

All seed intended for marketing must be of a variety registered on the National Catalogue or the EU Common Catalogue of Agricultural Plant Varieties. This means that the variety has passed certain identity and purity tests relating to Distinctness, Uniformity & Stability (DUS). Varieties must have an approved name, and be of acceptable agronomic merit as established through evaluation for 'Value for Cultivation and Use' (VCU) criteria.

In the case of combinable crops, seed crops must be grown under a written contract which is drawn up between the seed processor and the grower. A copy of the contract, signed by both parties, is then forwarded to the DAFF who act as the certifying agency. A small quantity of Breeder's Seed enters the scheme, and this stock is 'bulked up' by a number of multiplications over a few years until commercial quantities of the seed are produced. Seed multiplication categories proceed from 'Pre-basic' (White Label with purple stripe) to 'Basic' (White Label), to Category I ('C-1' - Blue Label) and in some cases Category II ('C-2' - Red Label).

In the case of potatoes the initial source material for seed is produced by meristem tip culture under laboratory conditions in order to minimise disease levels. The first generation ('mini-tubers') are produced in a glasshouse and these are subsequently multiplied over a number of generations in the field to produce seed for growing commercial ware crops. Mini-tubers are produced at the DAFF's Tops Potato Centre in Raphoe, Co Donegal and may also be imported. Under EU legislation (Decision 2004/03/EC) Ireland is one of a small number of areas within the EU officially recognized as a High Grade Seed Area for seed potatoes because the country is currently free from a number of significant potato diseases that occur in other member states. Under this legislation, only 'Pre-basic' (White Label with purple stripe) and 'Basic' (White Label) seed potatoes can be marketed in Ireland.

Crop Inspection

Each seed crop is inspected by DAFF inspectors to confirm the identity of the variety, to ensure that it meets the minimum level of varietal purity and that it meets certain plant health and pest infection standards. There are mandatory requirements with regard to the minimum isolation distance of seed crops from other related crops, and the crop rotation history of the land on which seed is grown.

Segregation, Sealing and Labeling

Each variety must be kept separate from other varieties at all stages in seed processing, and the identity and traceability of the seed preserved. Seeds and seed potatoes are again examined during preparation for final marketing. In the case of combinable crops, each seed lot is sampled and assessed for purity. Seed potatoes are examined for the presence of visible diseases and defects and random lots are sampled. Seed lots, once designated, must be preserved to facilitate subsequent traceability to allow post-planting monitoring.

Each container of seed is officially sealed to ensure that any tampering with the seed is evident. Containers are also officially labeled to confirm the standard and identity of the seed and provide traceability. Growers purchasing certified seed are advised to retain the labels after planting in case of queries regarding the seed. In the case of seed potatoes, the official labels double as EU Plant Passports.

Visual and Laboratory Analysis

All certified seed is subject to official visual examination by DAFF inspectors to ensure compliance with the legal standards with regard to varietal purity, and plant health standards.

A photo of a large crate full of potatoes

In addition, seed of combinable crops (e.g. cereals, beans etc.) is subject to laboratory analysis at the DAFF Seed Testing Laboratory in Backweston. The tests carried out include percentage germination capacity, percentage purity and certain pathology (disease) tests.

A photo of small seeds germinating in a plastic box

All land to be used for seed potatoes must be soil sampled and tested for Potato Cyst Nematodes. Leaf samples are taken during inspection of growing crops to test for virus diseases. Tuber samples are tested for quarantine diseases - ring rot, brown rot and certain nematodes.

Post Control Tests

It is a legal requirement that samples of certified seedlots are grown out in small plots to verify that the seedlot meets the necessary standards. These plots are monitored a number of times during the growing season, and may be viewed by seed assemblers and growers should a problem arise with a seedlot.

A photo of a field of unripe crops

DUS tests for potato varieties are carried out at the Tops Potato Centre, while DUS certificates for other agricultural crops are purchased from international testing agencies.

VCU tests for the main agricultural species cultivated in Ireland are carried out by the DAFF Crop Variety Evaluation Division.