What Does Certified Seed or Clones Mean?

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7/5/2019 – We often see claims that hemp seeds or clones are “certified” by seed and clone providers. What do they mean when they claim there seed or clones are certified? Is this a regulated and meaningful certification? Dr. Bill Foote, Director of the North Carolina Crop Improvement Association (NCCIA), agreed to educate us on what seed certification means.

What does Certified Seed Mean?

Dr. Bill Foote, Director of NCCIA

I have been viewing websites where Industrial Hemp seed and clone providers are claiming their seed is Certified. I am somewhat confused by the use of the term “Certified” by these seed and clone providers. My first response is what does Certified mean and who is certifying these varieties and “strains?”  Let’s begin with a history lesson in seed certification.

Seed certification began in the United States and neighboring countries in 1919 in response to farmer complaints of misrepresented and low seed quality. Seed certification began as a formal attempt to provide genetically pure, high-quality seed. By 1929, the Federal Seed Act (FSA) established a set of rules and regulations regulating the trade of seed and defined the process of certifying seed. The FSA states that Certified seed is a class of certified seed which is the progeny of Breeder, Foundation, or Registered seed and is produced and handled under procedures established by the certifying agency, in accordance with this part, for producing the Certified class of seed, for the purpose of maintaining genetic purity and identity.  The state of North Carolina also adopted similar standards and defined “certified seeds” as seed that has been produced and labeled in accordance with the procedures and in compliance with the requirements of an official seed-certifying agency. Today, every state has an official seed certifying agency following the same set of standards. The certifying agency may be a state department of agriculture, a land-grant university, or a crop improvement agency. North Carolina Crop Improvement Agency performs seed certification activity in North Carolina and our standards are available online or upon request. These standards are a system of record keeping, variety acceptance, seed production practices, seed handling practices, seed conditioning practices, and seed labeling standards.

How is the seed certification activity summarized in the previous paragraph related to Certified seed being offered by industrial hemp seed and clone providers? The seed you are buying may or may not have been certified by an official seed certifying agency. Official seed certifying agencies, recognized by the state and federal statutes, perform certification activity to meet national uniform seed certification standards. Certified may mean something completely different to a non-official seed certifying agency. Genetic purity may not be a claim of these agencies; it may simply mean guaranteed CBD levels or tested for THC content. To know the origin of your seed certification, look for an official blue Certified tag identifying the official certifying agency, seed producer, and seed origin. If you did not receive an official blue tag with your seed, it was not certified by an official seed certifying agency. In this case, it is in your best interest to ask the seed provider the following questions; 1) Who certified the seed?, 2) What standards did the certifying organization use?, 3) What is the purpose of their certification?, 4) Is the certifying organization a third-party certifier recognized by the state?, 5) Where was the seed produced?, and 6) Does the seed meet state minimums for germination and purity? Be wary of any seed provider who says they performed their own certification, not exactly an unbiased source.

I have pretty much ignored certified clones because official seed certifying agencies are not certifying clones yet. That means you better find out from your clone provider what certified means to them. Ask the same questions I suggested above. If they cannot answer those questions, look for another source.