Farm Progress

Lab offers full-service seed testing on small grains, corn, soybeans, sunflowers and other annual crops, as well as perennial grasses and forages.

Paula Mohr, Editor, The Farmer

December 3, 2016

4 Min Read
LAB LEADER: Jennifer Pernsteiner, MCIA’s lab manager, guided the lab reopening over the past year. She is shown conducting a corn purity exam. That involves looking for other crop and weed seeds and inert matter in the corn seed. Components found are noted in percentages.

The Minnesota Crop Improvement Association has reopened its seed testing laboratory after an eight-year hiatus.

Once again, offering seed testing provides full service to MCIA members, says Fawad Shah, MCIA president and CEO.

“The advantage of reopening the lab is that we can offer one-stop shopping for our members,” Shah says. “They will be working with one entity on field inspections, seed testing, and sending and receiving reports.”

Lab manager Jennifer Pernsteiner and her co-workers have been busy for more than a year with reorganizing the lab, checking equipment and preparing for seed-sample testing. As harvest concluded, they were receiving various types of seeds for certification. Lab seed technologists here test small grains, corn, soybeans, sunflowers, and other annual crops, as well as perennial grasses and forages.

MCIA is the state’s official authority for certifying noxious-weed-seed-free forage and mulch. MCIA staff members provide independent third-party seed certification and quality assurance services. Products certified include field-crop and turf seed, sod, native plant seeds, forage and mulch free of noxious weed seed and identity-preserved grains for specialty markets, as well as organic crops, livestock and food products. They also conduct field inspections and evaluate seed and grain facilities.

Steps in seed certification
Pernsteiner, who is a registered seed technologist, explained the various steps of seed certification. A typical sample needs a germination test and purity and noxious exams for labeling purposes.

“When samples arrive, we enter information about them in our database. Then we divide the sample into portions for the various parts of the test,” Pernsteiner says. “We divide a purity portion — which varies depending on the size of the seed and is approximately 2,500 seeds. The purity portion is separated by the analyst into pure seed, other crop, weed seed and inert matter. Another portion of the sample is divided for a noxious exam and is about 25,000 seeds. This larger portion is examined for noxious weed seeds, and in some cases, other contaminants as well."

Pernsteiner says that the number per pound of restricted noxious weed seeds is required to be reported on the label.

“If there are prohibited weed seeds, the seed lot cannot be sold for seed,” she says. “Each state has its own list of prohibited and restricted weed seed, and there are federal noxious weed seeds as well. The customer can request to have our lab look for other state’s noxious species, not just Minnesota’s.”

 The remainder of the seed sample is used for other tests. A germination test consists of 400 seeds that are planted and evaluated to see what percentage will develop into plants in the field. Abnormal seedlings and dead seed are noted as well as the normal seedlings.

 Other tests vary, depending on the crop and the customer’s needs, she says.

 “We can do moisture tests, seed counts, herbicide bioassays, vigor tests, tetrazolium tests and others,” she adds.

The time needed to do seed certification depends on the tests, Pernsteiner says.

“Most agronomic crops have a seven-day germination period. Vigor tests can take a few more days,” she says. “The grass samples we test vary from 10 days to three weeks.”

Up to speed
With seed samples coming in after harvest, lab staff is kept busy until spring conducting various tests. During its first year of operation, Shah says MCIA's main goal is to focus on accurate and timely testing. Next, staff will continue to make improvements by developing test protocols and streamlining lab procedures. Shah adds that additional staff training and certification are also high on the list.

Looking ahead over the next three to five years, Shah would like the lab to acquire accreditation, possibly from USDA’s Accredited Seed Laboratory or the International Seed Testing Association. And depending on member needs, MCIA may offer advanced services, such as molecular testing.

To learn more about MCIA, visit

MCIA annual meeting set for Jan. 5
The annual Minnesota Crop Improvement Association annual meeting will be held Thursday, Jan. 5, at the Bigwood Events Center in Fergus Falls.

An evening social on Wednesday, Jan. 4, will be offered, followed by the meeting the next day.

A tentative agenda is as follows:

Jan. 4
7 p.m. Social: snacks, beverages, and no-host bar

7 a.m. Registration and continental breakfast; trade show opens
8:30 a.m. Welcome and committee updates
9 a.m. Workshop on seed certification
10:30 a.m. Coffee and social break
11 a.m. MCIA open business meeting and election of officers
Noon. Awards luncheon
2 p.m. Minnesota Department of Agriculture updates
2:30 p.m. University of Minnesota CFANS (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) and MAES (Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station)
2:45 p.m. Coffee and social break
3:15 p.m. Soybean breeding program update
3:45 p.m. Reviving industrial hemp in Minnesota
4:15 p.m. Meeting adjourns

To register for the MCIA meeting, contact MCIA via its website at; or call toll-free 800-510-MCIA or call 612-625-7766.

About the Author(s)

Paula Mohr

Editor, The Farmer

Mohr is former editor of The Farmer.

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