New Seed Count Labeling Standards to Benefit Farmers and Seed Industry

New procedures will go into effect nationally Jan. 1, 2011 and will benefit both farmers and seed companies by creating uniform testing procedures for corn, soybeans and other important crop seed.

Published on: Jul 28, 2010
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey last week explained recent action by the National Conference on Weights and Measures that will standardize testing methods and procedures for seed count labeling. The new procedures, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2011, will benefit both farmers and seed companies by creating uniform procedures for testing corn, soybean, field bean and wheat seed by weight, volume, measure and count.

"The mission of the Iowa Department of Agriculture's Weights and Measures Bureau is to make sure there's a level playing field for both buyers and sellers. This agreement helps," he says. "Farmers and seed companies will both benefit from this change that will allow seeds to be sold by count, rather than weight."

Government & industry worked together to find a solution

In an effort to bring farmers, regulators, and industry together, Northey and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship hosted a seed summit on this issue in 2009. The meeting included officials from the American Seed Trade Association, Association of American Seed Control Officials, Association of Official Seed Analysts, Independent Professional Seed Association, Iowa Attorney General, Iowa Seed Association, Iowa State University, Monsanto, Nebraska Division of Weights and Measures, Pioneer, Syngenta and USDA.

"Having all parties at the same table to discuss the many small details of the current regulatory arena provided a springboard that clarified where we needed to go in the near future," notes Northey. "I'm very pleased that the group could work together and find a win-win solution for everyone involved."

The press release from the American Seed Trade Association further explaining the actions by the National Conference on Weights and Measures to standardize seed count labeling procedures follows here. More information can also be found on the American Seed Trade Association's website at

Seed industry's work earns vote, benefits farmers & companies

The National Conference on Weights and Measures recently (July 14, 2010) passed a vote to standardize testing methods and procedures for seed count labeling, which will positively impact farmers and seed companies.

The American Seed Trade Association filed a petition to amend Handbook 133 of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), which includes procedures for testing packages labeled by weight, volume, measure and count. The petition requests that the handbook match the standards of the Association of Official Seed Analysts for testing seeds.

"The manner in which seed is purchased and sold has significantly changed in recent years and this amendment will help provide regulatory uniformity for seed testing," said Andy LaVigne, ASTA president and chief executive officer. "We appreciate the National Conference on Weights and Measures' recognition of this issue and applaud their decision. This will benefit all of our members and will have a positive impact on seed companies' and farmers' bottomlines."

How seed is bought and sold has changed a lot in recent years

The amendment, effective Jan. 1, 2011, is specific to corn, soybean, field bean and wheat seed. It's designed to reduce confusion from a regulatory compliance standpoint and provides uniformity and harmonization of state laws. Seed in the past has been bagged and sold by weight. The challenge with this is seed is a living organism that can vary in size and weight from year to year depending on growing conditions and storage environment.

A traditional bag of soybean seed weighs about 60 pounds. If seed is small one year, a bag could contain about 180,000 seeds per bag and if seed is large, that same bag may only contain 132,000 seeds per bag.

This change allows companies to retain their freedom to operate and sell seed by count. This translates into significant cost savings for seed manufacturers and ultimately consumers by avoiding purchase of unforeseen capital equipment and costly manufacturing changes. "It's a step in the right direction to coordinate regulatory standards with AOSA, since many companies have converted from selling by weight to selling by seed count," says Sonny Beck, president of Beck's Superior Hybrids.

Selling by seed count instead of weight makes more sense

This doesn't just benefit seed companies; but also farmers. When selling by weight, farmers don't know exactly how many seeds they are getting in each bag. Technology and increased planting precision allows farmers to calculate exactly how much seed they'll need. Planters are calibrated each spring to drop a specific number of seeds into the ground on each acre.

"Soybean seed size can vary and the standardization coupled with calibration should help farmers with their seeding rate and purchasing plan," Leslie Cahill, ASTA vice president of government affairs, says it's a win-win situation for farmers and the seed industry.

"ASTA's Seed Industry Relations Committee successfully worked with the regulatory community to advocate for clarity and certainty on behalf of our members," says Cahill. "This also gives farmers more predictability in their first major planting decision each year—the purchase of seed.

More predictability helps farmers in making seed buying decisions

Many other organizations also supported the amendment, including:  American Farm Bureau Federation, Association of Official Seed Analysts, Association of American Seed Control Officials, Iowa State University, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and a few state corn and soybean associations.

"The NIST Handbook 133 was last published in 2005," says Don Onwiler, NCWM executive director. "It will be published again in 2011 and enforceable for states choosing to adopt the handbook this coming January 1."

The majority of states adopt the model standard set forth by the NCWM. But, those that do not may have similar language in statute or rule. "When the handbook is published, it's then up to the individual states to adopt the most recent edition of NIST Handbook 133," says Onwiler.

NCWM, founded in 1905, as a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to developing U.S. standards for weights and measures. It's comprised of local and state weights and measures officials, federal agencies, manufacturers, retailers and consumers who develop regulatory standards for weights and measures, including requirements for weighing and measuring devices, packaging and labeling, method of sale of commodities and checking the net contents of packaged goods.