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Don't Skimp on Seed Health, It Could Cost You

Expert Insights
17.08.2022
Seed health test
These enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) samples are used to test seeds for the presence of Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus.
  • Seed free of bacteria, viruses and fungi is the foundation of a healthy crop, rigorous testing by Syngenta helps ensure high-quality seed for growers. 
  • Syngenta uses high-tech testing strategies to confirm the absence of pests, including molecular and protein methods. 
  • Safe movement of seed around the world is critical to a stable food system, by meeting and exceeding regulatory standards, Syngenta is helping growers feed the world by providing seed where and when they need it. 

The foundation of every good crop is seed. From the genetics in the seed to provide high yield potential to the seed treatments that protect it to the quality of the physical seed itself, this tiny input has power over your season.  

Does your seed provider prove they make quality a priority? 

“There’s a lot of quality control measures taken in our seed production, but vegetables have this added component of seed health that you don’t see in traditional row or field crops,” said Laurel Carter, Global Head of Phytosanitary and Seed Movement Compliance at Syngenta. “Vegetables are really high value seeds that produce crops consumers eat – sometimes raw.” 

“Even something as small as 10 cells of a bacteria could lead to a disaster in a greenhouse or field. Our stewardship of the seeds makes sure customers and consumers have good experiences and planting our seed won’t cause problems down the road.”  

Seed health is one of many tests performed by Syngenta before seed goes to growers. Technicians also examine seed for damages, test germination rates, look for seed lot purity, and check to ensure any seed treatment is applied evenly and effectively.  

Seed Health at the Forefront

Quality seed starts with healthy seed. Find a company that prioritizes virus-, bacteria-, and fungi-free seeds through dedicated testing and eradication if an instance occurs.  

“At Syngenta we take the responsibility of high-quality seeds very seriously so every farmer can produce a bountiful harvest,” said Mallaiah Hanumanthappa, Asia and Pacific Region Operations Lead, Global Vegetable Quality Control at Syngenta. “From germination testing to purity and disease testing we hold ourselves accountable for getting the best seed possible to customers.”  

For vegetables, the need for bacteria-, fungi-, and virus-free seed is critical. Syngenta tests every seed lot distributed to growers around the world at any one of its several state-of-the-art facilities. Enkhuizen, Netherlands; Hyderabad, India; and Nampa, Idaho, U.S.A. are the three largest vegetable seed quality testing labs for Syngenta.  

“The testing we perform acts almost like a safeguard—we know the seed growers receive is clean, which means they can sow with confidence,” said Tony De Rover, Europe, Africa, and Middle East Region Operations Lead, Global Vegetable Quality Control. “We can provide proof of testing and proof of things like insecticides or fungicides applied to the seed, too.”  

Proof of a quality product provides confidence that the seed you get is the best it can be, and it won’t lead to phytosanitary concerns or field contamination. And that’s a standard you should demand from any seed supplier.  

High-Tech Testing

Testing seeds for overall health qualities is more complex than it might sound. There are many different species of crops to test, and each has different viruses, bacterial, and fungi concerns. That doesn’t take into account the fact that every country where the crop is grown has unique requirements for seed delivery, too.

Simply, seed testing and global seed movement is complex and takes dedicated effort to get it right. 

“Our lab in Nampa, Idaho is part of the National Seed Health System – each country has its own certification agency that is recognized for import and export,” says Rebekah Wagner, North and South American Region Operations Lead, Global Vegetable Quality Control. “We have people come out to our labs to approve of our methods for testing and accredit the laboratories. Because of this we can actually issue certificates with a seal that allows us to import and export seed. Customers can request these certificates as well.” 

Each lab around the world is accredited through the local governing body to ensure seed quality is maintained and ready for global shipment. The labs must be able to perform a variety of tests to check for seed health including:  

  • Grow out trials – Lab technicians take a sample of seeds and over a 20-to-30-day period grow the plants into seedlings to check for the presence of virus, fungi, or bacteria. This method relies on the expertise of the technicians to look for visible cues that indicate the presence of an unwanted pathogen. This test is also used as a secondary check for some of the molecular tests.   
  • Protein testing– Using an Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), seed material is inserted into a special tray that keeps each sample from interacting with others, including controls. Each sample has substance added to it that changes color only when certain viral proteins are present in the sample - controls include a confirmed negative sample and confirmed positive sample to ensure accuracy. If the target protein is found, the sample changes color in a two- to three-day result turnaround.   
  • Molecular testing – Uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to provide evidence of the presence or absence of DNA related to seed-borne pests with a one- to two-day window for results. The presence of the DNA doesn’t necessarily mean the seed lot is contaminated, the DNA could be alive or dead. In this case, secondary testing is provided to samples that showcase unwanted DNA to see if the DNA is alive and if the seed lot needs to be destroyed.  

Syngenta takes special care when testing for bacteria, virus, and fungi to ensure high standards are met and any contaminated seed is destroyed. Keeping pests and pathogens out of fields, especially in countries where the issue might not already be present, is critical to safe seed movement.  

Seeds Around the World 

Growers need consistent, reliable access to seed every season. Because of that Syngenta grows seeds all around the world – so if drought or floods decimate one seed crop, there’s backup. This means all seeds go through rigorous regulatory testing before crossing country borders.  

“In India we do a significant amount of seed export in tomatoes and peppers, around 30% of the global export market comes from India,” Hanumanthappa said. “We have to work with countries and grower demands around the world because many of them ask for different tests and information about seed. We’re committed to delivering them the quality they demand, on time.” 

Enkhuizen, Netherlands is the largest seed testing facility for Syngenta Vegetable Seeds globally. It processes about 75% of the small-seeded vegetables (melons, squash, tomatoes, brassicas, etc.) used by Syngenta customers around the world.  

Nampa, Idaho, U.S.A. and Hyderabad, India each process small-seeded vegetables and work with additional Syngenta labs to process sweet corn, peas, and garden beans, too. These plants each work with certain accredited, specialized facilities to complete some testing but recently added capabilities at these plants (such as what was recently completed in Nampa), increases Syngenta’s overall capacity. Each plant is poised for growth as demand dictates. 

“Quality control testing is expensive but it’s critical to make sure customers have safe seeds to plant, and something we’re committed to continue to provide,” said de Rover. “We want customers to continue to know why they can trust the quality of the seed they get from Syngenta.” 


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