Guidance

Apply to have seeds certified for marketing in England and Wales

The seeds which must be certified before you can market them, how to get them certified and how to get a licence for your seed business.

Applies to England and Wales

If you want to market the seeds of the main varieties of agricultural crops or vegetables in England and Wales, you must:

  • have a licence for your business to market seed
  • have successfully applied to have your seeds certified - this shows that they meet UK quality standards

You can also market seeds which another licensed person has had certified.

You’re considered to be marketing seeds if you’re doing any of the following:

  • holding or keeping them before sale
  • offering them for sale, for example by advertising
  • giving them to someone else

NIAB runs the seed certification scheme on behalf of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

Seeds which must be certified before marketing

Check a list of the agricultural and vegetable seeds you must have certified before you can market them - they’re all in the following categories:

  • beet
  • cereals
  • fodder plants
  • oil and fibre plants
  • fruits and vegetables

Apply for a licence

You must have a licence from APHA if your business:

  • markets seeds covered by this guidance
  • packs or re-packs seeds covered by this guidance
  • processes seeds covered by this guidance, for example cleaning or treating them for someone else to sell

To apply for a licence, complete an application form and send it to APHA.

You won’t be able to get seeds certified or market seeds if your business doesn’t have a licence.

See a list of licensed seed companies in England and Wales.

Inspections after you’re licensed

After you’ve got a licence to market seeds, APHA officials will visit you to check your records, inspect your premises and crops, and sample your seeds.

APHA will usually contact you to arrange an inspection.

If you’re licensed solely to market seed, you must inform APHA of any changes to your business details. APHA will contact you every 5 years to confirm you have done this.

Check if your varieties of seed are listed

A variety is a sub-category of any species of seed.

You can’t get seeds certified unless they’re a variety which is on the Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) or Northern Ireland (NI) Variety List.

You can apply to have a new variety added to the national list.

The variety must be on the UK national list (or Northern Ireland national list) to be marketable in Great Britain.

Marketing seed of unlisted varieties

There are exceptions to the Seed Marketing Regulations for England, Wales and Scotland.

If these conditions are met, you’ll be granted an authorisation to market:

  • appropriate uncertified seed quantities of unlisted agricultural varieties for tests or trials
  • uncertified seed of unlisted vegetable varieties for the purpose of gaining knowledge from practical experience during cultivation
  • small quantities of uncertified seed of unlisted or listed agricultural or vegetable varieties, for scientific purposes or selection work

Applicants who would like to use these arrangements must get authorisation from APHA before marketing any seed.

APHA will handle applications on behalf of England, Scotland and Wales.

To apply please email seed.cert@apha.gov.uk to request the application form, complete the form and email it back.

For further information and technical details, please read Schedule 4 Part 2 Paragraphs 9 and 10 England Seeds Marketing legislation and check Annex 6 of the Technical Standards.

Certification categories

You may be able to apply to enter your seed in the following categories, depending on the stage your seed is at in the multiplication process:

  • pre-basic (PB)
  • basic (B)
  • certified seed (CS)
  • certified seed of the first generation (C1)
  • certified seed of the second generation (C2)
  • certified seed of the third generation (C3) (only flax or linseed can be certified in this category)
  • commercial seed (only annual meadowgrass, Hungarian vetch, sainfoin and black mustard can be certified in this category)
  • standard seed (you can only market vegetable seeds in this category)

Standard vegetable seeds must meet analytical and varietal purity and germination standards before you can market them.

Enter your crops

You must tell NIAB that you’re growing crops to produce seeds, this is known as ‘entering your crops’.

Online

If you’re already registered on the Government Gateway, you can enter your crops online.

See the user guide (PDF, 2.69MB, 73 pages) on how to use the online system.

By post

To register by post, complete the CERT 2 application form and the CERT 2A payment form and return them to NIAB.

Use a separate application form sheet for each crop you enter and number each of your sheets.

Crop entry fees

Check the fee you’ll need to pay in the seed certification fees guidance.

You can use the payment application form to pay for both your crop entry and your inspection fees.

Create a crop identity number

You must make a seed crop identity number and enter it on your application form.

To do this, combine the following details:

  • the last 2 digits of the harvest year (for example, 14 if the year was 2014)
  • your licence number
  • the sheet number of the form (for example, if you’re sending 3 forms, the first sheet number would be 1, the second would be 2)

For example, if the harvest year was 2014, your licence number was 123 and the sheet number was 05, you should use the crop identity number 14/123/05.

Deadlines for crop entry

Cereal seeds

You must enter crops of cereal seeds by the following dates:

  • winter sown cereals - 31 January
  • spring sown cereals - 15 April

Fodder plant seeds

You must enter fodder plant seeds by the following dates:

  • winter sown field peas and field beans - 31 January
  • spring sown field peas and field beans - 15 April
  • biennial seed crops (swede and fodder kale) - 15 October

Grasses and herbage legumes

You must enter grasses and herbage legumes by the following dates:

  • lots for sowing in spring of that year, including clover and minor grass species sown for harvesting the next year - 31 January
  • lots of ryegrass species for sowing in autumn of the same year - 31 January
  • spring lupins and spring sown vetches - 15 April
  • seeds of all traditionally managed clover crops and local varieties - 30 May
  • seeds of all traditionally managed grass crops and local varieties - 30 May
  • annual seed crops (fodder radish) - 15 April

Oil and fibre plant seeds

You must enter oil and fibre plant crops by the following dates:

  • annual seed crops sown in spring, ie white mustard, brown mustard, flax, linseed, oilseed rape, sunflower and turnip rape - 15 April
  • biennial seed crops sown in autumn, ie oilseed rape, fodder rape and turnip rape - 15 October
  • winter hardy linseed - 31 January
  • soya bean - 15 May

Beet seeds

You must enter beet seeds, ie sugar beet, fodder beet and mangels by the following dates:

  • biennial seed crops - 15 October
  • transplanted seed crops - 15 April

Vegetable seeds

You must enter vegetable seeds by the following dates:

  • autumn sown biennial seed crops - 15 October
  • spring sown biennial seed crops - 15 April
  • spring sown annual seed crops - 15 April

Crop inspection

You must have your crops inspected.

You can use an official inspector or a licensed inspector depending on:

  • what you’re applying to produce
  • the qualification held by the inspector

See the instructions on crop inspections.

When you need an official inspection

NIAB will arrange an official inspection of crops entered to produce the following:

  • pre-basic seed
  • basic seed

The inspector will complete a crop inspection report.

Fees for official inspections

You’ll have to pay the following fees for official inspections:

  • cereal, pulses, linseed and heritage - £62 per hectare if you apply by post, £60 per hectare if you apply online
  • beet, oilseed rape, mustard, fodder rape, beet and kale - £97 per hectare if you apply by post, £95 per hectare if you apply online
  • hybrid rape - £132 per hectare if you apply by post, £130 if you apply online

When you need a licensed inspection

You must contact a licensed crop inspector to arrange the inspection of any crops you enter to produce CS, C1, C2, or C3 flax seed that’s a listed variety.

Contact APHA to get a list of licensed crop inspectors and their contact details.

You must give the inspector a copy of the CERT 3 crop inspection report to complete - find the form you need.

The crop inspector will inspect the crop and send you the completed CERT 3 to tell you if your crop meets certification standards.

Fees for licensed inspections

For licensed crop inspections of crops at grade CS, C1, C2, and C3, except for early multiplication and late entered crops, you must pay either:

  • £5.50 per hectare if you apply by post
  • £4.50 per hectare if you apply online

Arranging a second official inspection

If you don’t agree with the results of an official inspection, you can contact NIAB and ask them to arrange a second inspection.

You’ll have to pay £35 per hectare and NIAB will invoice you.

Arranging a second licensed inspection

If you don’t agree with the results of a licensed inspection, you can contact the licensed inspector and ask them to arrange a second inspection.

Control plot reports

When you enter your crops, NIAB will take a sample of the seed from the seed lot you grew them in and grow it in an official control plot.

They do this so that they can check the grown material meets the standards of the variety you want it certified in.

If your crop fails to meet standards, they’ll send you a control plot report - they can do this at any time during the growing season.

Crop inspectors will compare the results of their inspection to control plot reports before making a final decision.

For officially inspected crops

If the NIAB sends you a control plot report before inspection, the official inspector will use it as a guide. If your crop fails a control plot report after passing inspection, contact NIAB to discuss the results.

They may decide to do a second inspection to do this if the report found that your crop is contaminated, the wrong variety, or the first inspector couldn’t check the impurities at the time.

They can overturn the results of any previous inspection based on their discussion with you or the second inspection.

For crops inspected by licensed inspectors

If your crop was inspected by a licensed inspector and fails a control plot report, inspectors may visit your site and inspect it again, and discuss the results with NIAB.

If NIAB confirms the control plot result, NIAB may declare post-control of the seed lot is unsatisfactory. This result would then apply to all crops sown with seed from that lot, regardless of whether they’ve been officially inspected.

After crop inspection

Your licensed or official crop inspector will sign the crop inspection report and state whether the crop meets:

  • the standards for which you entered it
  • the level for which you entered it, if it’s barley, oats, wheat or some fodder where a higher voluntary standard applies
  • the standards or level of any lower generations for which it’s eligible
  • the minimum standards for you to be allowed to produce seeds from it

You can produce seeds from a crop provided it:

  • passes at the category or level you entered it for and all lower categories levels for which it’s eligible
  • passes at a lower category or level and is eligible for seed production at that category or level

Sending crop inspection reports

Sending official crop inspection reports

If your crops were inspected by officials, the inspector will send the inspection report to NIAB.

Sending licensed crop inspection reports

If your crops were inspected by licensed inspectors, you need to send the completed crop inspection card to NIAB.

Deadlines for sending crop inspection reports

You must lodge crop inspection reports by 15 August, apart from for the following which you must lodge by 15 July:

  • lots of ryegrass that you’re sowing in autumn of the same year
  • biennial seed crops sown in autumn, ie oilseed rape, fodder rape and turnip rape

Enter your seed lot

To enter your seed lot, you must complete form CERT 5 and send it to a licensed seed sampler for testing.

You’ll be sent back a test report form CERT 10 that gives you your results. Check if your seed meets the standards, if they do then you can get it certified for marketing.

Fees

You’ll have to pay the following fee to enter your seed lots:

  • final generation (including retests) - 2H, 2L, CH, CL, C2 and C3 - £42 per seed lot if you apply by post, £34 if you apply online
  • multiplication seed lots PB, B, 1H, 1L, C1, C2 (including retests) - £165 per seed lot if you apply by post, £155 if you apply online

You can apply online, or to apply by post complete form CERT 7 and send it to NIAB.

Create a seed lot reference number (SLRN)

You must make an SLRN for your seed lot - NIAB use this to identify your seed before and after marketing.

You must use this number on all your applications and in any dealings that relate to that seed lot.

For all seed lots except blends and mixtures

Combine the following numbers:

  • the last two numbers of the harvest year (for example 14 if the year was 2014)
  • the category code (for example 2H) - find a list of category codes in the technical standards (PDF, 770KB, 136 pages)
  • your licence number (you can use the breeder or maintainer’s license number if you’re entering seeds to be certified as pre-basic or basic)
  • the sequential number of the lot produced by the person whose licence number you’ve used - this must be a unique number and you can make it up

For example, if the harvest year was 2014, the category code was 2H, your licence number was 123 and the lot number you chose was 02, your seed lot reference number would be 14/2H/123/02.

For cereal blends

If the blend contains seeds from different harvest years, use the last 2 numbers of the most recent year - otherwise make the SLRN as you would for all other seed lots.

For herbage, fodder, oil beet and vegetable blends

Use the year when you blended the seed, not the year when you harvested it.

For mixtures

You can choose any reference number you want but it must contain the packer’s licence number at the end, for example packer number 9999 would add ‘/9999’ after the number you created.

Taking a sample

You must have your samples taken by a licensed or official seed sampler for seed which is being multiplied.

Submitting samples of seed of multiplication categories in England

If you’re submitting samples of seed from categories PB, B, CS, C1 or C2 the licensed seed testing station (LSTS) or official seed testing station (OSTS) will send the sample and seed test report to NIAB.

Linseed and flaxseed

The licensed seed testing station sends a 15g sample of the seed to the official seed testing station and to NIAB, with form CERT 5 attached.

Breeder’s seed

You must have breeder’s seed (also known as uncertified seed) sampled by a licensed seed sampler.

Complete form CERT 5 and send it to NIAB, along with the sample.

You don’t have to send a seed test report for breeder’s seed.

The sample must be taken from a consignment of seed that has a seed lot reference number.

It should have a supplier’s label that states:

  • the name and address or registered number of the person labelling the seed
  • the seed lot reference number
  • the species and variety
  • the words ‘breeder’s seed’
  • the declared net or gross weight or declared number of seeds

Deadlines for receipt of samples at NIAB

Cereal seeds

You must enter cereal seed samples by the following dates:

  • winter sown cereals - 7 November
  • spring sown cereals - 15 March

Fodder plant seeds

You must enter fodder plant seed samples by the following dates:

  • winter sown field peas and field beans - 7 November
  • spring sown field peas and field beans - 15 March
  • biennial seed crops (swede and fodder kale) - 15 August

Grasses and herbage legumes

You must enter grasses and herbage legume seed samples by the following dates:

  • lots for sowing in spring of that year, including clover and minor grass species sown for harvesting the next year - 15 March
  • lots of ryegrass species for sowing in autumn of the same year - 15 September
  • spring lupins and spring sown vetches - 15 March
  • seeds of all traditionally managed clover crops and local varieties - 15 March
  • seeds of all traditionally managed grass crops and local varieties - either 15 March or 15 September
  • annual seed crops (fodder radish) - 15 March

If you haven’t yet submitted a sample for lots of all grass species (except ryegrasses) and perennial herbage legumes - you must enter them by 15 August.

Oil and fibre plant seeds

You must enter oil and fibre plant seed samples by the following dates:

  • annual seed crops sown in spring, ie white mustard, brown mustard, flax, linseed, oilseed rape, sunflower and turnip rape - 15 March
  • biennial seed crops sown in autumn, ie oilseed rape, fodder rape and turnip rape - 15 August
  • winter hardy linseed - 15 September
  • soya bean - 21 April

Beet seeds

You must enter beet seed samples, i.e. sugar beet, fodder beet and mangels by the following dates:

  • biennial seed crops - 31 August
  • transplanted seed crops - 15 October

Vegetable seeds

You must enter vegetable seed samples for certification by the following dates:

  • autumn sown biennial seed crops - 31 August
  • spring sown biennial seed crops - 15 March
  • spring sown annual seed crops - 15 March

Late entries

APHA can choose to accept late entries - they’ll decide whether to do this on a case by case basis, depending on:

  • the crop species
  • how late your entry is
  • whether they can still grow a control plot

Seed sampling and testing

You must have your seed sampled and tested after it’s been processed, divided into seed lots, and sealed and labelled, to check it meets the standards for certification.

You must have samples taken by a licensed seed sampler and tested by either a licensed seed testing station or an official seed testing station.

Contact APHA if you can’t find a licensed seed sampler. See the list of official seed testing stations.

See also the instructions for seed samplers and the sampling frequency card.

Applying for sampling and testing of a qualifying seed lot

Complete a CERT 5 application form for sampling and testing of a seed lot and give it to a licensed seed sampler.

You can only apply for sampling and testing of your seed if it’s met crop standards and has a crop inspection report which is lodged with NIAB.

You must complete a separate CERT 5 for each seed lot you entered.

Testing

The LSTS or OSTS will test your seed for analytical purity, other seed content and germination.

For beet and cereal seed samples, they’ll also test moisture content.

Your seed test report

When tests are complete, the LSTS or OSTS send a seed test report to you and to NIAB.

The report will state whether your seed meets the standards of the category or level of certification for which you’ve applied.

If your seeds meet a lower category level than the one you applied for, your test report will tell you this.

Sampling, sealing and testing of seed for export

If your seed needs to be sampled before exporting (seed which needs a OECD or OIC certificate), complete form CERT 9 and CERT 9A and contact either NIAB or your local plant health and seeds inspector.

Exporting seed from Great Britain to the EU

The EU has formally granted equivalence to the UK for:

  • agricultural seed, other than certified vegetable seed
  • forest reproductive material (FRM), other than the tested category
  • fruit and vegetable propagating material

This equivalence means certified material on this list can be entered into UK or EU schemes and can move between schemes.

Marketing tested categories of FRM

There is no EU-wide equivalence for tested FRM imported from Great Britain to the EU.

Individual EU countries can decide whether or not to approve the marketing of your tested FRM. If the EU country approves it, you can market tested categories of FRM there until the end of 2024.

GB suppliers of FRM should contact the Forestry Commission at FRM@forestrycommission.gov.uk to get the necessary OECD certificates before supplying any FRM to the EU.

New export requirements

Before you export seed from Great Britain to the EU it will need to be:

  • a variety that is on the EU Common Catalogue
  • certified under Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rules, if there is an OECD scheme
  • have an ISTA Orange International Certificate

Seed and other propagating material must also follow the EU’s plant health and official controls import requirements.

Before you export your seed or propagating material to the EU, you need to:

  • get a phytosanitary certificate through eDomero
  • speak with your customer in the EU about completing a Common Health Entry Document for Plant Products (CHED PP) through TRACES (Trade Control and Export System)

TRACES is an EU online system used by traders or their agents to pre-notify goods that need plant health checks before they enter the EU market.

Read guidance on how to export plants and plant products to the EU.

Importing seed from the EU

For guidance on importing seed, see Annex 5 of the Technical Standards.

The UK has granted equivalence recognition to EU member states, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, where that country is a member of the relevant OECD seed scheme.

International rules apply to EU seed marketed in Great Britain. For certified seed, the variety must be on the Great Britain or Northern Ireland Variety List for import and marketing into Great Britain. Where applicable, seed should be certified under OECD rules and have an ISTA Orange International Certificate. The label must include ‘GB rules and standards’.

If you import a species of seed covered by the Seed Marketing Regulations 2011, see annex 11 of the Technical Standards. You must complete and return the forms ITC1 and ITC2 for imports of seed over 2kg from third countries.

Also see plant health controls for guidance on imports.

Movement of seed from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has confirmed GB seed can be marketed in Northern Ireland. You must follow OECD rules.

Before you market seed from Great Britain to the Northern Ireland it will need to be:

  • a variety that is on the NI Variety list or EU Common Catalogue
  • certified under Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rules, if there is an OECD scheme
  • have an ISTA Orange International Certificate

You cannot market certified vegetable seed from Great Britain in Northern Ireland.

Contact your local plant health and seeds inspector for more information on phytosanitary requirements to move seed to Northern Ireland.

Marketing tested categories of FRM

You can market tested categories of FRM from Great Britain to Northern Ireland until the end of 2024.

GB suppliers of FRM should contact the Forestry Commission at FRM@forestrycommission.gov.uk to get the necessary OECD certificates before supplying any FRM to Northern Ireland.

Movement of seed from Northern Ireland to Great Britain

Seed will continue to move freely from Northern Ireland to Great Britain under Northern Ireland’s existing rules and labelling. Northern Ireland will continue to apply EU legislation under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sending seed test reports

You must send your seed test reports to NIAB.

Complete the form you need from the following list and send it to NIAB:

The LSTS sends copies of all final seed test reports to NIAB.

Packing, sealing and labelling

You must pack your seeds under supervision of a licensed seed sampler, whether they’re seeds that have to be certified for marketing or not.

You can’t market your seeds unless you do this.

For certified seed you must use official labels available from the APHA label contractor.

For standard vegetable seed or small packets, you must use a supplier’s label which you can produce yourself. You must:

  • use the correct label colour for the type and grade of seed
  • make sure the printed information on the label is permanent and cannot be removed or fade

Find out more about packing and labelling seeds in the technical standards (PDF, 770KB, 136 pages) and annex G of the instructions for seed samplers.

Keeping records

If you’re licensed to market seed, you must keep records of:

  • all your seed transactions, whether the seeds they relate to are certified or not
  • any seed treatments, testing or other processes carried out on the seed
  • any crop inspection reports, which the inspector will give to you, for 3 years after they were issued

When certification is withdrawn

NIAB can recommend that APHA withdraw certification from your seed lot, or part of it, if they decide:

  • either the seed itself, or the seed that the crop that produced it came from, were sampled incorrectly
  • the crop that the seed came from did not meet the technical standards (PDF, 770KB, 136 pages)
  • the seed did not meet the required technical standards (PDF, 770KB, 136 pages)

If APHA withdraws certification they’ll tell:

  • the person who entered the seed for certification
  • anyone who has marketed the seed or is currently marketing it

If APHA tells you they’ve withdrawn certification, you must tell anyone that you’ve supplied with that seed.

Appeal against a decision to certify your seed

You can appeal against any of the following decisions within 21 days of when you’re told about them:

  • refusal to certify your seed
  • withdrawal of certification of your seed

To appeal, you need to contact the head of varieties and seeds and tell them why you’re appealing against the decision. You can email them at seed.cert@apha.gov.uk or write to them at the following address:

Head of Plant Varieties and Seeds
Eastbrook
Shaftesbury Road
Cambridge
CB2 8DR

They’ll consider your appeal and make a decision within 21 days of receiving it.

If you are unhappy with the decision you can seek a judicial review.

Other appeals

To appeal against a decision to issue a crop inspector, seed sampler and licensed seed testing station license, you need to contact the head of varieties and seeds. Tell them why you’re appealing against the decision. You can write to them at the following address:

Head of Plant Varieties and Seeds
Eastbrook
Shaftesbury Road
Cambridge
CB2 8DR

Read the appeals guide (PDF, 475KB, 16 pages) for further information on the appeals procedure.

The head of varieties and seeds will consider your appeal and make a decision within 21 days of receiving it.

If you are unhappy with the decision you can seek a judicial review.

Contacts

NIAB

NIAB
Seed Certification
Park Farm
Villa Road
Histon, Cambridge
CB24 9NZ

Phone: 01223 342220

EU Seed Fraud Network

Read the EC website for EU Seed Fraud Network contact details.

Technical standards

Annexes 5 to 9 in the technical standards (PDF, 770KB, 136 pages) also cover the following procedures:

  • seed imports from EU countries and countries outside the EU
  • authorisation to market seed for test and trial
  • authorisation to market a preservation mixture
  • marketing of conservation varieties of agricultural and vegetable species

Legislation

Read the seed marketing regulations for England and the seed marketing regulations for Wales.

Published 12 September 2012
Last updated 20 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Update to ‘Exporting seed from Great Britain to the EU’ and ‘Movement of seed from Great Britain to Northern Ireland’ to include new information on marketing tested categories of FRM.

  2. Guidance updated with EU equivalence and new requirements for seed export

  3. Updated with guidance on how to comply with rules from 1 January

  4. Changed winter sown crop entry deadlines from 31 January to 14 February for 2020 only.

  5. Added link to the EU Seed Fraud Network.

  6. Updated seed certification technical standards and sections 'Deadlines for crop entry' and 'Deadlines for receipt of samples at NIAB'.

  7. Added section 'Sampling, sealing and testing of seed for export'

  8. Updated seed certification technical standards

  9. Updated the section on appeals against a decision section and added more detailed guidance

  10. Guidance reviewed and redrafted in line with GOV.UK standards

  11. Fixing references to specialist guides

  12. First published.