Update on the NCDA&CS Pilot Program for Seed Quality Testing in 2020 (Collins, Edmisten, Wilson, & Stewart)

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Despite all of the distractions associated with COVID-19 lately, our N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) seed inspectors and seed lab have been hard at work on the new NCDA&CS Pilot Program for Cotton Seed. As of earlier this week, there have been samples collected for approximately 314 different lot numbers of cotton seed entering NC, with results available for the large majority of them.

As mentioned in our previous article, the ultimate goal of this program is to improve transparency for growers regarding seed quality with intentions to collect samples from, and provide 3rd-party seed quality testing (by the NCDA&CS Seed Lab), for all cotton seed lots sold and planted in NC. Currently, this program is a cooperative effort between the seed companies and NCDA&CS, is voluntary, and to date, with both seed companies and NCDA&CS working well together to provide cotton seed quality information to all NC growers.

Growers are reminded to be checking the database frequently for their lot numbers to view test results and make appropriate planting decisions.  The database can be found at Cotton Test Results. Users will need to create their own username and password to enter the database. Once a user is logged into the database, select “Cotton Test Results” under the “Seed Reports” dropdown box on the top toolbar. A user must then enter the correct and entire Lot number for each lot of seed that they want results; therefore, it is very important to record your lot numbers thoroughly and accurately. Using the NCDA&CS test results, growers should then utilize the Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator to make the best planting decisions possible.

Growers are also reminded to take a proactive approach to this program. If you have a complaint regarding poor emergence during planting season, the first thing that we or our county agents will ask for is the NCDA&CS germination test results. Without these results, there is little we can do to help you.  Therefore, MAKE SURE your seed have at least been sampled by NCDA&CS as soon as you have your lot numbers available. If a sample has not been collected yet by an NCDA&CS seed inspector, contact Brian Bowers (brian.bowers@ncagr.gov, 919-707-3756) at NCDA&CS immediately, and he will notify local seed inspectors to collect a sample for you as soon as reasonably possible. It’s important to note that NCDA&CS Official Sampling of seed quality requires that seed bags or containers to remain unopened, and the inspectors must be the first to open the bag/container to collect the sample, in order for the test results to be considered during seed complaints. If bags or containers have been opened, downstream seed treatments, etc. then a test can still be conducted only as service sample, but not as an official sample.

Given that this program is voluntary, there may be some seed lots that come into NC without notification to NCDA&CS. Therefore it is imperative that growers check the database and notify NCDA&CS promptly so that samples can be collected and germ tests completed.

For the lots tested thus far, seed quality has been acceptable with variation among germination values that would be expected. Knowledge is power and the real value of this program is knowing what your seed quality is. As mentioned in our previous article, a variety/lot that tests low for cool germ can still be acceptable if planted in warm or ideal conditions, but should be avoided during cool wet spells (see the Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator during planting season) as long as the warm germ value is acceptable.

The NC Seed Law requires the label to state a minimum warm germination value but not a cool germination value, so make sure that some of your seed has adequate cool germ test results if you must plant through less than ideal conditions. This is another reason we recommend planting multiple varieties to manage risks. Additionally, use the germ test results to make adjustments to your planting practices. For smaller seeded varieties, avoid planting too deep (deeper than 0.5-0.7”) and consider hilldropping. For low cool germ seed, avoid planting in marginal conditions. In all cases, adjust your seeding rate based on germ test results. Generally speaking, we recommend planting between 43000 and 44000 seed per acre. This should result in 36000 to 39000 plants per acre without large skips. If germination tests are below 85% percent, growers should increase their seeding rate accordingly to achieve a similar final plant stand.