The history of seed certification cannot be properly presented without first reviewing why such a program exists and discussing briefly its function. Organizations which finally became certification agencies as we know them today were started about 1900. To define seed certification one can say it is a method to follow or keep pedigree records on seeds released or approved by state agricultural experiment stations. It was found that without some plan or method, such as this, for keeping track of new varieties, the variety rapidly disappeared. Seeds were traded from farmer to farmer or through small dealers, and in no time the identity of the stock, as originally released, was lost. It became apparent that either the plant breeder or experiment station developing a variety would have to do this job of maintaining the variety, or some other means would have to be devised. The plant breeder's job and experiment station function is research; therefore, seed certification was developed as a separate function--related to, but not a part of research.
Through the years the "Crop Improvement Association" system has developed in the United States. Nearly all the states use it, though not all are consistent in the use of these words. In a few cases seed certification is performed by the State Department of Agriculture. Without exception the methods employed in certification are similar, that is, the record on the foundation or breeders seed is taken by the certifying agency as it is released to growers, the fields inspected according to definite standards, and the final product approved or rejected, also according to standards. Seed approved is tagged and sealed in an official manner. In most states the Agricultural Experiment Station and the certifying agency have a very close working relation. Usually the certification office is housed with the experiment station. Personnel managing the certification program are often on the experiment station staff.
In Canada, a seed certification system is carried out by the Dominion Department of Agriculture and an organization known as the Canadian Seed Growers' Association. Many other countries have seed programs similar in purpose to certification as it is known in North America.
Seed Certification, while usually operating more or less independently, is dependent upon the agricultural experiment station which in turn must rely heavily on certification. Frolik and Lewis--(1944) had this to say about the relationship:
“The agricultural research worker, whose services and activities are made possible through public funds, has as his first obligation the well-being of the American farmer. Searching for improvement in agricultural practices and materials is the province of most research agronomists. A corollary is that once an agricultural scientist has developed an improved practice or an improved strain or hybrid, he has a vital interest--yes, he has a moral if not an actual obligation in seeking to gain public acceptance of his contribution.
The fact that this obligation is recognized helps account for extension services being an integral part of our agricultural colleges today. While there is reliance upon the extension service as a medium for distribution of agricultural developments, it, too, is limited in its scope of operations. It is primarily an educational agency. And education is not enough in this matter of increasing, maintaining, and distributing good seed. The extension service can preach the gospel of good seed with fervor and energy but what the extension service needs to tell the farmer is the answer to what the farmer wants to know: "Where can I get this type of seed?" The seed certification service is the answer by virtue of that much needed service which it supplies, namely, getting the seed increased under reasonable controls in order to make it easily available and at the same time to guarantee its identity to farmers…
The first and most obvious service that the certifying agency can perform for the research agronomists is that of increasing the supply of pure seed of improved varieties. These new varieties, no matter how superior, need much nurturing in their early stages. And even after they have become rather widely distributed and accepted, there continues to be need for sources of pure seed. Without a seed certification service, varieties tend to became mixed, contaminated and confused as to identity… Secondly, the certifying agency through its membership provides the agricultural scientists with a receptive and informed group of farmers willing to cooperate in the application of new agricultural practices.”
From much of the foregoing it can be seen that certification applies largely to seeds of what are customarily known as farm seeds or field crop seeds. Vegetable seeds and flower seeds are seldom included in such programs. The reason for this is simply that much of the vegetable crop breeding is done by privately employed plant breeders and companies who operate their own pure seed program. The relatively small size of this industry and the fact that vegetable and flower seeds are grown directly by private companies or under contract to them makes this possible. Even so, small amounts of vegetable seed are certified in some states. There are certification systems that include seed potatoes, berry bushes, grape cuttings or plants, and recently there has been interest in certification of forest tree seeds in the northwest and in the southeast United States.
The first organizations engaging in seed certification were in the central states and in Canada. A few of these organizations got together in 1919 and established what became known as the International Crop Improvement Association; later the name was changed to the Association of Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). This organization has since been very active. Through the efforts of participating agencies it has been highly successful in creating uniform seed certification standards throughout this continent.
The first attempt at seed certification in California began in 1925. Members of the California Farm Bureau Federation felt a need for such a service, therefore, created what was known as the Pure Seed Association. This organization led by T. A. Kilkenny who was president for most of its existence had as its goal the certification of grain seed. It was only moderately successful, and by 1929 was apparently running into difficulties in keeping the organization alive.