USDA Offers More and Better Choices for Farmers, Plant Breeders, Seed Stewards and Others
In March 2023, USDA published a report on fair competition in the seed sector. Prepared in response to Executive Order No. 14036 “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” the report called for the establishment of a Farmer Seed Liaison at USDA to promote transparency and bring the farmer voice into the intellectual property system; a new Federal working group on fair competition in seeds; and a notice to industry under the Federal Seed Act with respect to the disclosure of kind and variety names to farmers before shipment.
AMS provides regulatory oversight and enforcement of the Federal Seed Act (FSA) and its related regulations. The FSA is a truth-in-labeling-law that regulates agricultural and vegetable seed shipped in interstate commerce. It requires that seed shipments between States are labeled with certain quality information necessary for seed buyers to make informed choices.
Primary labeling requirements of the FSA include seed purity percentage, germination percentage, number of noxious weed seeds per pound, chemical seed treatment (if present), kind and varietal identification, and the name and address of the interstate shipper.
From farmers planting seed for harvest to homeowners reseeding their lawns, the FSA program works to ensure that agricultural and vegetable seed shipped in interstate commerce are labeled truthfully. Truth-in-labeling laws like the Federal Seed Act protect seed buyers from contaminated, mislabeled, or unfit seed and create a level playing field within the seed industry where the same rules apply for all seed businesses. Further, they help control the spread of weeds or other invasive species.
How the Federal Seed Act Works
Cooperative Agreements (Federal and State)
The FSA program is administered through cooperative agreements with each of the 50 States. The cooperative agreements are signed by senior officials from State Department of Agricultures (SDA) and the AMS Administrator. The purpose of these agreements is to create a national regulatory network that facilitates inspection work conducted anywhere seed is sold in the United States.
Under USDA AMS cooperative agreements, States agree to:
- sample seed lots traded within their jurisdictions,
- test seed lots for compliance with FSA, and
- submit samples suspected of violating the FSA to SRTD for investigation.
AMS is responsible for:
- authorizing State officials to draw samples, securing information and records, and inspecting seed lots that are subject to FSA within the State,
- issuing written notices or warnings to persons involved in minor violations of the Act,
- initiating any required administrative or judicial proceedings under the Act or the regulations that are warranted following the SRTD investigation for serious violations; and
- training State regulatory officials and scientists to conduct seed testing, inspecting, and sampling, required within the USDA AMS cooperative agreement.
Together, USDA AMS and its State partners work to ensure consumers that what is sold in seed containers are truthfully labeled. The collaborative activities also create a fair and competitive market for businesses by ensuring that all seed businesses follow the same rules.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (Federal and Industry)
The FSA Program maintains a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). Seed certification is a way to ensure seed buyers that the varieties they purchase meet genetic purity standards. This MOU includes ongoing monitoring of State approved seed certifying agencies to ensure that they follow the minimum requirements of the FSA when conducting field evaluations of plant varieties.
Under the USDA AMS MOU, AOSCA agrees to:
- review each member State Seed Certifying Agency’s (SCA) standards and procedures for compliance with the Federal Seed Act,
- monitor changes made by SCA’s to their standards and procedures by having members report all updates to AOSCA,
- conduct onsite monitoring to ensure procedures and certification activities meet the minimum FSA requirements, and
- partner with USDA AMS to bring any non-compliant SCA in line with FSA regulations.
USDA AMS is responsible for:
- interpreting the meaning of FSA or its regulations as they relate to seed certification,
- monitoring and evaluating SCA’s that are not members of AOSCA,
- conducting investigations of SCA’s suspected of not meeting or following the procedures within the FSA regulations, and
- determining the appropriate administrative action when an SCA does not meet requirements of the FSA.
Temporary or long-term MOU’s may be put into place, as needed, between USDA AMS and industry organizations to ensure compliance with FSA or to facilitate seed trade.
Variety monitoring is another part of the FSA Program. Each year, SRTD conducts Trueness-To-Variety (TTV) field tests to determine if seed lots are properly labeled for variety, as required by FSA and State seed laws. The primary focus of this testing is to identify seed lots which have the wrong variety name on the label, or which have significant levels of off-type plants. SRTD works with State seed control programs to submit samples for inclusion into yearly TTV tests.
Field TTV testing is managed by the SRTD agronomist. Seed kinds selected for SRTD’s Spring and Winter TTV trials are primarily based on regulatory observations from the prior year, seed industry requests, and the amount of time that has elapsed since the last grow-out for the kind in consideration.
Once seed kinds are selected for a given year, the SRTD agronomist solicits seed samples from State seed control officials. State seed control officials from across the country then submit samples from retail stores and warehouses from their States. The seed is then planted to test that the growth characteristics observed in the field match those advertised on the package and seed label. Seed lots out of tolerance with the labeled claim are in violation of the FSA and the business selling the seed are subject to regulatory action.
Submitting Samples for TTV Testing
While State seed control officials submit the majority of TTV samples to SRTD, anyone may do so. To submit a sample for TTV testing contact:
- View the Federal Seed Act
- FSA Regulations
- Current FSA settlements
- Enforcement of the Varietal Labeling Provisions of the Federal Seed Act
- Weight of a Working Sample
- 2023 State Noxious-Weed Seed Requirements (States and Appendix) (pdf) updated March 2023
- 2023 State Noxious-Weed Seed Requirements (States and Appendix) (xls) updated March 2023
- Seed Company Records and the Federal Seed Act (pdf)
- Labeling Requirements for Chemically Treated Seed (pdf)
- View the Agricultural Marketing Act 7 CFR 75