A world-first quality control system will come into effect for New Zealand cropping farmers in the new season’s seed harvest.
The seed certification scheme has been undergoing its biggest upgrade in more than 30 years and is set for the launch of a new digital database next month.
Seed certification was introduced in 1929 to ensure that cultivars of key agricultural plant species maintain their identity through successive generations of multiplication for the ultimate benefit of end users.
NZ Plant Breeders and Research Association general manager Thomas Chin said NZ’s high quality seed is respected both at home and abroad because of a highly capable industry applying rigorous certification standards and processes.
“This has resulted in our industry enjoying significant premiums for its certified seed in our domestic and international markets.”
Chin said to keep pace with technology advances and to meet new regulatory requirements, a new online seed certification system has been designed.
Owned by the NZ Seeds Authority (NZSA), a body representing farmers, seed companies and seed processors, the platform is thought to be the first in the world to utilise digital mapping technology to verify the area, location and paddock history of certified seed crops.
“This feature reinforces the global status of NZ has as being a trusted producer of seed that is true to type.”
The current seed certification database is a paper-based system maintained and administered by AsureQuality.
The new NZSA system will protect and grow NZ’s $400 million seed industry.
“It is long overdue. It will revolutionise, future-proof, protect and enable industry growth,” Chin said.
One of the key benefits will be in the event of biosecurity issues.
The new Seed Certification Information System SCIS is being developed in collaboration with AsureQuality and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The MPI oversight is to ensure SCIS is a tool that will provide the verification required by the ministry to enable it to issue credible OECD seed certification assurance to NZ’s export partners.
NZSA manager and SCIS project leader George Gerard said crops planted this season for harvesting in 2024 will be the first to be entered in the new system.
“Growers currently making application into the existing system will be migrated into the new system then directed how to use it for the coming harvest of the seed in the ground now,” Gerard said.
He said the biggest change that users of the new system will notice is the complete removal of paper-based application forms, with all administration completed online.
Growers will also find that the system has lots of smart tools to help them check the eligibility of their crop applications for certification and to manage the information needed when they deliver their harvested crops to processing stores.
Certification assures the customer that the purchased seed retains varietal identity, genetic purity and high-quality standards, Gerard said.
He acknowledged there may be some learning challenges for farmers using it for the first time but gave the assurance that seed company agents have had training and will be able to give one-on-one coaching after the system goes live.
He said the live launch, originally intended for mid-July, has been pushed out to around the middle of August.
The new SCIS has been funded directly by value chain stakeholders as well as investment from the MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.
Seed crops ranging from arable crops, brassicas and herbage grasses to legumes are checked throughout the growing cycle by growers, merchants and AsureQuality field inspectors to ensure good quality control, consistency and genetic purity.
Once harvested the seed is sampled and analysed by government-accredited laboratories to assess germination and purity.
The top certified seed crops are ryegrass, clover and cocksfoot.
Interim statistics issued by AsureQuality show the total area of certified seed in NZ is about 44,000ha.
An analysis of the different varietal groups shows herbage and amenity grasses represent about 70% of the total certification area with legumes at about 16%, brassicas 8% and arable crops 5%.