Producing and distributing food – guidance

Apply to have seeds certified for marketing

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.

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 EU 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, eg by advertising
  • giving them to someone else

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (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, eg 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.

Inspections after you’re licensed

After you’ve got a licence to market seeds, APHA officials will visit your site at least once a year 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, APHA will contact you every 3 years to check your business details.

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 UK national list or the EU common catalogue.

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

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.

Register on the Government Gateway.

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

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

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
  • biennial seed crops (swede and fodder kale) - 15 October
  • 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’ll have to use an official inspector or a licensed inspector depending on what you’re applying to produce.

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 a seed lot reference number (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:

Combine the following numbers:

  • the last two numbers of the harvest year (eg 14 if the year was 2014)
  • the category code (eg 2H) - find a list of category codes in the technical standards (PDF, 932KB, 149 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, eg packer number 9999 would add ‘/9999’ after the number you created.

Taking a sample

You must have your samples taken by a licensed seed sampler (or by an official seed sampler for multiplication of pre-basic or basic vegetable 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 seed lot entry

Cereal seeds

You must enter cereal seed lots by the following dates:

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

Fodder plant seeds

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

  • winter sown field peas and field beans - 7 November
  • spring sown field peas and field beans - 15 March

Grasses and herbage legumes

You must enter grasses and herbage legume seed lots 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
  • biennial seed crops (swede and fodder kale) - 31 August
  • 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 lots 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 - 31 August
  • winter hardy linseed - 15 September
  • soya bean - 21 April

Beet seeds

You must enter beet seed lots, ie 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 lots 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 a list of official seed testing stations (PDF, 66.8KB, 10 pages)

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.

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.

Find out more about packing and labelling seeds in the technical standards (PDF, 932KB, 149 pages) .

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

For standard vegetable seed or small packets, you must make your own labels.

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, 932KB, 149 pages)
  • the seed did not meet the required technical standards (PDF, 932KB, 149 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

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 - write to them at the following address:

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

They’ll consider your appeal and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State within 21 days of receiving it.

The Secretary of State wil make a final decision and contact you to tell them what you’ve decided.

Contact the NIAB

NIAB
Huntingdon Road
Cambridge
CB3 OLE

Phone: 01223 342220