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While you’re finding out from the Idaho Crop Improvement Association if the seed you’re about to plant is up to par, you just might hear something about garbanzo beans moving south or even get a read on the housing market.
For more than 70 years, ICIA has helped preserve varietal purity and health of the state’s seeds and crops by offering a mostly voluntary seed certification program. In doing so, it has kept close tabs on what’s happening or about to happen on Idaho crop lands.
“There are cyclic changes in all of our seed-crop groups, and some have less ups and downs than others at times,” Executive Vice President Doug Boze said. “We are at the mercy of those cyclic changes but have no influence on them.”
The nonprofit ICIA is the state-authorized provider of seed certification services. Certification is voluntary for all Idaho seed crops except potatoes.
“What certified seed does for the commodity grower is that it allows them to purchase and grow seed of a known variety, which can be expected to perform,” Boze said. “We have documented that it is the variety, and that it has been grown under stringent field and seed standards that assure varietal purity and quality.”
Seed certification “assures the growers are getting a quality product that should perform to their expectations,” said Mick Goff, ICIA southwest area manager.
Without certification, they said, growers would face increased risk that their planting stock is less clean and not of a single variety. Growers also would face more unknowns about yield, resistance to pests and disease, and quality measures.
Planting certified seed also can better position growers to meet a customer’s need, they said. For example, a hay grower can select one variety meeting feed requirements of the dairy industry or another suited to beef cattle. A wheat grower can select a variety found to be resistant to a disease threatening his or hear area, thus safeguarding yield.
“You know the variety you are planting and you know its expected performance in the field,” Goff said.
For commercial potato growers, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture — which regulates all seeds sold in the state in areas such as truth in labeling and the presence of noxious weeds or disease — requires planting only seed stock certified by an official seed-certifying agency such as a state or provincial entity. For Idaho seed potato growers, seed they receive from outside the state must meet requirements equivalent to Idaho certified seed standards; ICIA receives documentation to verify its eligibility to be planted in Idaho.
Certification for seed-potato growers, beyond the fact that it’s required, greatly increases the likelihood that the seeds grow in an environment that falls within parameters for varietal purity and disease resistance, Boze said.
As for other types of seed crops entering Idaho as an eligible class of planting stock, seed companies or growers can voluntarily put them into the ICIA certification program and produce the next generation of certified seed.
Certifications generally last until the seed crop is sold, which is ICIA’s way of accounting for crops grown in one year and sold in another. Perennials keep their certification through their several-year production cycle, but each year’s output is tracked in connection with the crop’s pedigree-like identity. Certifying a seed crop can take almost a year, including a full growing season, harvest, conditioning and cleaning, and laboratory testing.
Total acreage of Idaho seed crops varies little from year to year, and usually is in the 140,000-142,000-acre range, Boze said. The biggest segments are dry bean, seed potatoes, small grains and grass, alfalfa seed and miscellaneous annual and perennial crops including canola, radish, turnip and some corn seed. Consolidation among seed companies in recent years has had virtually no impact on total acres, he said.
Potato seed crops usually comprise 30,000 to 32,000 acres, around 10 percent as big as Idaho commercial potato acreage.
Seed corn generates little voluntary participation in ICIA voluntary seed certification, Boze said. Most producers have their own internal controls, and if they participate, often it’s related to an export opportunity for sweet corn or popcorn, he said.
Crookham Co., a Caldwell, Idaho, company that exports popcorn, sweet corn and onion seed, participates in ICIA certification programs as needed for its exported popcorn and sweet corn — such as when a country requires certification beyond what the Idaho State Department of Agriculture offers, CEO George Crookham said. For all of its crops, the company has internal quality controls and standards.
Boze said ICIA is not providing certification for growers of field corn seed. In some years, Idaho has zero acres. Much comes from other states and is used for silage or as a feed grain.
ICIA can gets an early look at new seed crops coming to Idaho or existing crops changing acreage.
Boze said sorghum and hybrid sunflower seeds have entered the ICIA certification program in the last few years. And the association has seen greater interest in garbanzo bean and other pulse seeds, historically prominent on north central Idaho dryland farms but now seeing acreage increases in the state’s irrigated southwest and south central regions.
Goff said garbanzo production in the south in the past year occurred as northern Idaho output rose, a first.
The past year’s slight drop in alfalfa seed acreage reflects the U.S. industry being overstocked this year and previously. Acreage likely will drop again next year, he said.
Grass seed has seen acreage gains in Idaho in recent years, Boze said. Most grass is on dryland farms, primarily in northern Idaho, and is cyclical; trends in homebuilding and golf course development are among driving factors, he said. As a perennial, it’s subject to planting decisions involving time frames of several years.
ICIA is based in Meridian and has regional offices in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and the Coeur d’Alene area. The association employs 13 full-time and about 30 field and lab staff seasonally.
The association has about 500 users, including growers and seed companies, and an approximately $2 million annual budget derived by fees from users.
ICIA works closely with grower groups like the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association, and researchers at the University of Idaho. Members of the board and larger advisory committee provide expertise in multiple commodities.
“Our program acreage has been relatively stable in recent times, which has allowed us to have a relatively stable financial position,” Boze said. “That allows us to effectively serve the Idaho seed industry.”