NCIA a longtime partner with Nebraska growers for seed certification

by Geitner Simmons | IANR Communications

Wheat grows at the Agriculture fields at 84th and Havelock. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication.
April 1, 2024

Lincoln, Neb. —The Nebraska Crop Improvement Association, with a history going back to the early 20th century, has long carried out a central task for the state’s agriculture. The NCIA’s laboratory tests and field inspections verify that Nebraska-produced seed meets the required certification standards.

In the 21st century, the NCIA, a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Nebraska, continues that mission, working with Nebraska growers who produce seed best suited for local soil and climate conditions across the state. The association also offers educational outreach and, on request, auditing of the seed production process.

When Nebraska farmers see a seed bag marked with the blue tag from NCIA, they have the assurance that the seed has received unbiased third-party quality assurance, says Steve Pageler, the association’s certification manager. The blue tag means the seed meets the standards for germination, purity and variety identity.

Hard red winter wheat is the crop most commonly checked by the association. Other small grains it handles include triticale, oats and rye. The seed certification work also includes crops such as hybrid corn, popcorn and some native grasses such as big blue stem and little blue stem.

With Nebraska-certified seed, “you know what you're getting,” Pageler says. “It's been around a long time. So, when a farmer picks up our seed book, they can find who has certified native grass or wheat seed. They know what they're getting and who they're buying from, and they're not going to get a cold call from somebody later.”

The association’s membership consists almost entirely of seed producers. In general, “this is your neighbor who grows seed on his place,” Pageler explains. “Oftentimes the seed is from a public breeding program. He is the dealer, the grower and the cleaner.”

State seed law designates the University of Nebraska as the entity in charge of seed certification, with the NCIA as the affiliated agency to carry out that work.

The association’s laboratory is in Plant Sciences Hall on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s East Campus. Producers can contact the NCIA office to receive free seed sample bags. Results are emailed the same day as completed and are available on the Nebraska Seed Tracking System.

The lab checks for germination, measuring the percentage of seeds that can successfully sprout under controlled conditions. Other checks include purity analysis for weed seeds, other crop seeds, and inert material. Vigor tests and other quality tests are also available.

In addition to its seed quality analysis, the lab’s work includes herbicide bioassay testing for herbicide-resistant crops such as Clearfield wheat, Roundup Ready soybeans or Enlist soybeans. These tests are used to determine the level the seed lot is resistant or tolerant to the indicated herbicides.

The NCIA lab technicians also do regulatory samples for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Field inspections include checking for variety identification, weeds and other crops. To prevent cross-pollination, inspections also check to see that there is a proper distance from other fields with the same crop.

Other inspections include third-party audits of production for different companies; inspections for producers who are licensing traits; and regulatory field inspections.

Educational outreach is one of the NCIA’s core purposes, and the association holds an annual Seed Improvement Conference focusing on information-sharing, including how to raise certified seed to meet standard. “We also bring in educational speakers, including a lot of Extension educators, to talk about seed-related issues or agriculture-related issues that would affect our group or the seed industry in general,” Pageler says.

As modern agriculture changes, the NCIA is ready to make changes and additions to meet producers’ needs. “We're open to dialogue with the members to see how to modify or make better or modernize standards as things change depending on the crop,” Pageler says. “And if a company or individual comes to us that needs services that involve our expertise as far as audits and identity preserve and quality assurance, we're willing to help develop programs.”

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