Guidance

Marketing and certification of agricultural and vegetable seed varieties

How to market and apply for certification of agricultural and vegetable seeds in England, under UK and EU seed legislation.

Introduction

Under EU and UK seed legislation, if you want to market certified seed of agricultural and vegetable species covered by the legislation, you can only do so if the species/variety is on a national list and has been officially certified, and you are registered to market such seed.

Seed certification is a quality assurance process which ensures seed meets specific standards relating to crops and seeds. These standards are clearly defined in the seed marketing regulations. Certified seed must be marketed in correctly packed, sealed and labelled packages. The aim of the scheme is to ensure high-quality crop and seed production.

The day to day technical operation of seed certification is carried out by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) on behalf of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

Guidance

Legislation

The Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964

Part II of The Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964 provides for the power to regulate and amend in other respects the law relating to transactions in seeds, including the provision for the testing of seeds. It also controls the import of seed and authorise measures to prevent the injurious cross-pollination of seeds.

Seeds England, Seed Marketing Regulations 2011

The marketing of seed of the main agricultural and vegetable species in England is regulated by the Seed Marketing Regulations. The Regulations define the species covered and the standards that the crop and seed must achieve before they can be certified and marketed. The certification process places the onus on the applicant to make decisions about their crop and seed and is based on a three building block approach.

  • A variety must be listed on one National List or in the EC Common Catalogue, in accordance with the Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) Regulations 2001 as amended 2004
  • A satisfactory crop report must have been lodged
  • A satisfactory seed test report must have been lodged

Uncertified and unlisted seed of these species can only be marketed in accordance with specific exemptions, which are set out in the Seed Marketing Regulations and with prior written authorisation from a Certifying Authority. For England and Wales this is Plant Varieties and Seeds, which is part of APHA.

These Regulations cover the licensing requirements for the following:

  • company or person engaged in seed marketing operations
  • seed testing stations
  • crop inspectors
  • seed samplers

SI 2011/463 Seeds England, Seed Marketing Regulations 2011

SI 2011/2992 Seeds England, Seed Marketing (Amendment) Regulations 2011

SI 2011/3035 Seeds England, Seed Marketing (Amendment) Regulations 2012

How seed certification works

The term ‘marketing’ in the seed marketing regulations means:

  • holding seed with a view to sale
  • offering seed for sale, eg by advertising
  • passing seed on to someone else for commercial exploitation

This means marketing of seed can take place without any monetary payment being made. Marketing relates to the change in ‘title’ in the seed.

The EU Common Catalogue and National Lists

Seed from the main agricultural and vegetable species has to be certified before it can be marketed. In order to be marketed and entered for certification, the species or variety has to be listed on a National List or on the EU Common Catalogue.

The aim of the lists is to ensure that no new variety can be commercially exploited unless it is genuinely new and an improvement on varieties already being sold.

The UK’s National List is maintained by the PVS Office. The EU Common Catalogue is compiled from the National Lists of all the member states.

For more information about the National List and Common Catalogue, see the guide on National Listing: agricultural and vegetable crops

Registration and licensing

If you wish to market seed covered by the seed marketing regulations, you are required by the Seed (Registration, Licensing and Enforcement) Regulations to be registered. You can apply for registration to the Seed Marketing team of APHA. There is no charge for registration. This applies to:

  • merchants - those trading in seed
  • packers - those in the business of packing or re-packing seed
  • processors - those cleaning or treating seed intended for sale

There are other seed industry activities for which you may need to be registered.

If you are a registered person or business, you must keep proper records of all your transactions in seed. You must also keep details of seed treatments, testing and any other process carried out on the seed.

APHA has the power, subject to appeal, to suspend, revoke or withdraw a registration. If that happens, the business or person is then no longer permitted to market seed covered by the regulations.

Licensing of inspectors and samplers

In England and Wales, crop inspection and seed sampling is undertaken either by an official of APHA or by licensed personnel. The Official Seed Testing Station oversees the work of Licensed Seed Testing Stations (LSTSs) who undertake most of the seed testing for certification.

Categories of seed and quality

The multiplication of seed involves a generation system where seed is multiplied and certified in the following categories:

  • Pre-basic seed (PB)
  • Basic seed (BS)
  • Certified seed (CS)
  • CS of the first generation C1 (H or L)
  • CS of the second generation C2 (H or L)
  • CS of the third generation C3 (flax and linseed only)
  • Standard seed (vegetable seed only)

There are different quality standards that have to be achieved for each category.

Standard seed is intended mainly for the production of vegetable seed. The seed is not officially certified but it does have to meet minimum standards for purity and germination.

Seed quality

The certification scheme defines minimum quality standards for crops and seed in the following respects:

  • varietal identity
  • varietal purity
  • analytical purity
  • germination capacity
  • moisture content
  • health/level of seed-borne diseases
  • minimal level of weeds and seed from other crops

Seed lots and crops failing to meet the above criteria cannot be certified and marketed. However it may be possible to downgrade the lot to a lower category if it achieves that standard.

The seed certification process

The seed certification process follows a ‘building block’ approach, as follows:

  • variety listed - the seed must be of a variety on a National List or the EU Common Catalogue.
  • crop stage - the seed crops must be inspected by a qualified inspector and a report issued stating that the crop has achieved the prescribed standards.
  • seed stage - a sample from the seed lot must be drawn by a qualified sampler and tested in a seed testing station. An official report is issued stating that the seed has met the prescribed standards.

All three building blocks must be in place for the seed to be certified and marketed.

Seed testing stations

Most seed tests are carried out at LSTSs. These are licensed by APHA to test specific types of seed.

In addition, the OSTS carries out testing for certain diseases and tests seed for export.

Licensed and official seed testing stations (PDF, 225KB, 11 pages)

Enforcement

To ensure compliance with the legislation, APHA officials make regular audit visits to businesses registered for seed industry activities.

Seed packing, sealing and labelling

All packages of certified seed and standard seed must be correctly packed, sealed and labelled by - or under the supervision of - a licensed seed sampler before the seed is marketed.

Stocks of official seals and labels are purchased direct from a commercial company under a contract set up by APHA.

List of companies licensed for seed marketing operations in England and Wales (PDF, 768KB, 83 pages)

Application process and fees

Fees

If you submit an application for seed certification you will have to pay a crop and seed lot entry fee (PDF, 108KB, 5 pages) . The fees vary depending on the variety and level or category of crop/seed being entered. Seed certification has to achieve full cost recovery so there is an annual licence fee for a LSTS.

You can apply for seed certification online using the online seed certification system, or submit applications manually by filling out the relevant forms and posting them with a cheque.

Online application

The online application system allows users to submit all forms online (CERT 2, CERT 3 summ, CERT 4, CERT 7, CERT 7 summ). LSTSs can also submit their final seed test reports (CERT10) through this online service.

Manual application

Applications for seed certification can be submitted manually using the relevant forms.

These should be sent with a cheque, covering the required fee and made payable to ‘NIAB/Cert Fee Client A/C’ to NIAB, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 OLE.

Contact NIAB on 01223 342220 if you have any queries.

Further information

Instructions to licensed and official crop inspectors in England and Wales (PDF, 925KB, 67 pages)

Instructions to licensed and official seed samplers in England and Wales (PDF, 848KB, 71 pages)

Conduct and arrangements for examinations and appeals (PDF, 373KB, 14 pages)

GM Inspectorate: seed audit programme

Seed certification information letters

Farm Saved Seed

National Listing of agricultural and vegetable crops

The Common Catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species on the Europa website

The Common Catalogue of varieties of vegetable species on the Europa website

NIAB website