Opinion by Gil Waibel
Wyoming Seed Analysis Lab: Testing Seed for Integrity, Viability
By Gil Waibel, Director, Wyoming Seed Analysis Lab
Spring is in the air! Farming is in full swing, and, if you do not have a farm, your urge to garden and take care of your lawn may be strong. I love watching the anticipation in a young child after planting a seed and waiting for it to sprout for the first time. I feel the same anticipation with the seeds I plant in my garden every year. I will check the garden morning and night to seed if anything is growing yet. When I used to farm, the anticipation was multiplied as I watched many acres of a planting emerge from the soil all at once. Such are the wonders of life.
One of my favorite movies is Secondhand Lions. In one of the scenes, a traveling salesman sold the two older uncles “the best” garden seeds. Well, the seeds grew quite well, but the only thing that grew was corn. The carrots were not carrots, but they were corn, the radishes were not radishes, but they were corn, and so on. At least the corn was corn, and there did not seem to be many weed seeds in the packets.
Before there were seed labs in the United States, there were countless similar stories involving traveling salesmen of seed for farmers and gardeners alike. It is very disappointing, after having that expectant anticipation of seed emerging, to be let down. No one will file a formal complaint over a packet of seed that did not grow. However, it is an experience that is not easily forgotten. If the seed we plant is not of the quality we expected, we feel violated all growing season as we walk by a blank or thinly growing row. We may become suspicious each time we purchase seed in the future. One could argue that a farmer could sue a traveling seed salesman, but these salesmen never seemed to return to the community, and tracking them down was difficult. Seed laws and seed labs became the best way to regulate the movement of seed.
About 100 years ago, states around the Union began to open seed labs. All seed labs use the “AOSA Rules for Testing Seed,” so the seeds are tested uniformly by each seed lab. Wyoming has a seed lab located in Powell, which used to be housed in Cheyenne and at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
The Wyoming Seed Analysis Lab serves two functions. The first function is to test inspection samples that have been drawn at random by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s inspectors wherever seed is registered to be sold. The lab makes sure the information on the seed label is truly stated. If the seed lot being sold is found to be improperly labeled, it cannot be sold in Wyoming until the labels are corrected. The seed tests conducted on these inspection samples are concerned with the seed purity percentage, germination percentage and looking for noxious weed seeds. This helps protect the consumers of seed in Wyoming.
The other function of the seed lab is to test service samples for anyone from a gardener or farmer, to a seed grower or seed company, to a government agency wanting to verify the quality of the seed they are purchasing. The seed lab conducts purity, noxious, germination, tetrazolium (a quick viability test), seed counts and moisture tests.
The seed lab in Powell opened in 2003. The cost of testing is based on the difficulty in testing each species. You can contact the seed lab if you want to know how much a seed test might cost. Since opening, the seed lab has tested over 970 different species. The seed lab serves the testing needs of Wyoming, and is also testing heavily for customers from our neighboring states. Most seed labs primarily test agricultural seeds, but the Wyoming Seed Analysis Lab specializes in reclamation species, but can also test agronomic, vegetable, tree and turf grasses.
We wish everyone a great spring, and a successful growing season!
For more information, contact the Wyoming Seed Analysis Lab at 307-754-4750.