About Foundation Seed Service

The Washington State Crop Improvement Association Foundation Seed Service (FSS), through a memorandum of agreement with Washington State University, has the authority and responsibility for producing and distributing breeder and foundation seed of publicly released WSU varieties. Foundation class seed is the first generation of seed available to the public and is the basis for the production of registered and certified seed.


                                                                          2012 Harvest


Certified seed programs maintain varietal identity and high seed quality as the quantity of seed is increased from a small amount of breeder seed to a sufficient volume of certified seed to plant commercial crops. Quality factors such as purity, germination and freedom from noxious weeds are monitored during the certification process. Breeder seed is produced by the FSS in cooperation with plant breeders prior to the release of a new variety. Breeder seed is planted by the FSS to produce foundation seed. The foundation seed is sold to farmers and seed companies and is planted to produce registered seed; registered seed is planted to produce certified seed and certified seed is planted to produce commercial crops. Some varieties have no registered class; therefore foundation seed is planted to produce certified seed. Each of the above mentioned classes (breeder, foundation, registered, certified) is a generation within the certified seed program.

Certification standards have been established for each class of certified seed except breeder seed. Seed is “certified” as one of the above mentioned classes when it has met the minimum standards of the certification agency. These standards are met through seed source verification, field history and isolation requirements, field inspections, seed sampling, seed testing and tagging or other documentation. A seed lot can only be used for the production of the next lower class when all certification requirements have been met.

Certified seed programs are present in each state where production agriculture is important.  The programs are administered by individual states in various forms through departments of agriculture, universities and crop improvement associations. The WSCIA and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) have responsibility for the certification of certain seed crops in Washington. Nationally, minimum standards for certification are approved by the association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) and are incorporated into the Federal Seed Act. Each state must comply with the minimum AOSCA standards but may enact more restrictive standards.

Seed heads selected by plant breeders are given to the FSS after the WSU Agricultural Research Center approves a pre-release increase of a promising selection. Each head is hand threshed and the resulting seed is placed in a separate ten foot long “headrow”.  About 1500 headrows are planted per acre and from one-half to two acres are planted for each breeder seed increase.

The breeder seed field is inspected several times. Rows that do not comply with the variety description are removed. These rows may differ in plant type, color or maturity or may contain plants that are not uniform in appearance within the row. The certification agency inspects breeder seed plots according to certification standards for foundation seed in the absence of specific breeder seed standards.

Before harvest, 1500 to 3000 heads are selected from the breeder seed field for the next breeder seed increase. Breeder seed fields are harvested and conditioned using plot scale equipment (plot combines, small seed cleaners, etc.) that can be more easily and completely cleaned between varieties than farm scale equipment.

Foundation seed is produced by selected seed farms and by the FSS on WSU research stations after a variety is released by WSU. The FSS provides the breeder seed and implements certain quality control procedures and inspections. The crop is purchased at a premium above commercial market price to compensate the producer for the additional expense of foundation seed production. Small increases are made directly by the FSS on WSU research stations. The following procedures are used for the production of foundation seed:

1.     Selection of financially stable growers with a proven record of certified seed production.

2.     Selection of fields meeting the certification requirements for land history and isolation.

3.     Delivering breeder seed and cleaning and inspecting planting equipment.

4.     Roguing fields for off-types, other varieties, other crops and problem weeds. The FSS hires a summer field crew to rogue, clean combines, etc.

5.     Cleaning the combine after removing the header, sieves, access plates, etc. The combine is cleaned and inspected by FSS staff and summer crew.