Seed Certification Scheme

Seed certification is a quality assurance system whereby seed intended for marketing is subject to official control and inspection. At its simplest, the system certifies that a sack, packet or box of seed contains what it says on the label and that the seed was produced, inspected and graded in accordance with the requirements of a Certification Scheme. The immediate objective of seed certification is to supply high quality seed to farmers and other growers, which is true to identity, high in purity and germination capacity and free from certain pests and diseases. Seed quality is most important in crop production as high quality seed is essential for good crop yields and good returns and minimises the likelihood of crop failure. Seed of barley, oats, wheat, triticale, field beans, oilseed rape and seed potatoes were certified in 2014.

The Seed Certification Scheme is an official system supported by EU and National Legislation and International Protocols to ensure that seed is produced, multiplied and marketed according to predetermined standards and systems, while maintaining the genetic integrity of the product. It is part of a wider system of international trade incorporating plant breeding, plant breeder’s rights, plant genetic resources and biodiversity. Under EU and Irish law, it is illegal to market uncertified seed.

EU Seeds Directives

There are seven EU Seed Directives which provide for common standards for seed certification across the EU Member States and for the free movement of certified seed. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the designated authority for implementing the Seed Certification Scheme in Ireland.

Production of certified seed of combinable crops requires the establishment of a contract between the grower and the seed merchant. Certain conditions are stipulated regarding the suitability of the site for growing a seed crop. Seed production is overseen by official inspections and sampling during the field, seed intake, packaging and labelling phases of production. Contracts are not required in the case of seed potatoes but growers must apply to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine before crops are planted. Land to be used for seed potatoes must be officially soil sampled and tested for potato cyst nematodes (PCN) in advance of planting the crop. Both growing crops and harvested tubers
must pass official inspections before seed is certified. 12

The initial source material for seed potatoes 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 Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 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.

Variety Registrations

Under EU legislation only seed of varieties which are registered in the Irish National Catalogue of Agricultural Plant Varieties or in the EU Common Catalogue may be marketed here. In addition, all seed marketed, including grass seed mixtures, must be officially certified. Varieties to be included in the National Catalogue must be tested under official control and in accordance with EU requirements.

Seed Testing Service

Farmers and merchants may have seeds tested for germination, analytical purity, moisture content, Tetrazolium quick viability, hectolitre weight, various seed borne diseases etc., at
the Department’s Seed Testing Laboratory. A fee is charged for these tests.
Tests for a number of quarantine organisms are also carried out at the Plant Health Laboratory in Backweston.

Crop Variety Evaluation Programme

In accordance with both EU Directives and National Legislation the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the competent authority in Ireland to carry out V.C.U. (Value for Cultivation and Use) trials for crop varieties. New varieties showing superior merit are given positive V.C.U. status.
These trials, called National List (NL) Trials are carried out over a minimum of two years; mainly at the Department’s Crop Variety Evaluation Centres at the following locations;
• Backweston Farm, Leixlip, Co Kildare, W23 AE3V
• Teagasc, Kildaton College, via Carrick-on-Suir, Co Kilkenny, E32 YWO8
• Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mellows Campus, Athenry, Co. Galway, H65 R718
• Teagasc, Moorepark Research Centre, Fermoy Co. Cork, P61 C997
• The Potato Farm and Laboratory, The Tops, Raphoe, Co. Donegal, F93 HV02
Varieties meeting acceptable standards for both VCU (and DUS*) are eligible for registration in the National Catalogue of Agricultural Plant Varieties.
*DUS (Distinct, Uniform, Stable) tests are only carried out in Ireland on newly bred potato varieties.

Promising varieties from the NL trials are advanced to Recommended List (RL) Trials, which take a minimum 3-year period. These trials are carried out at the above centres and on selected commercial farms as recommended by Teagasc Development Officers. Varieties included in combined National / Recommended List trials must be tested for a minimum of 3 years before they can be considered for entry to the National Catalogue and the Recommended List.

Trials are currently undertaken for the following crops; Cereals (Wheat, Barley and Oats), Forage Maize, Herbages (Grass and Clover), Potatoes, Beans and Oilseed Rape.
Recommended Lists of the most outstanding varieties in trials are issued annually for the main crop species.

Plant Genetic Resources

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provides financial aid towards the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture through the Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme. The scheme makes an annual call for suitable projects and is overseen by an advisory committee consisting of personnel from the Department, Universities, Teagasc, the farm organisations and NGO’s.

The Department also maintains a genebank of old cereal and potato varieties and co- ordinates supports from EU and International Organisations aimed at conserving geneticresources. The Department also provides funding to the Irish Seed Savers Association to maintain a traditional Irish orchard amongst other measures aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of Irish plant genetic resources.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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