California Crop Improvement Association
California Crop Improvement Association
California Crop Improvement Association
University of California
California Crop Improvement Association

History 1900-1959


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.


The Pure Seed Association while operating independently of the University of California early saw the need for cooperating closely with it. J. Earl Coke, then Extension Agronomist with the University, became interested in the certification cause and recommended a new approach at a Farm Bureau meeting at Asilomar, November 10, 1930. He proposed a system of seed certification which is similar to that of today. It was based, however, rather largely on the proposition that the work of the program could be carried on successfully at the county level with local county committees doing field inspection and, with the aid of the farm advisor, carrying out most of the functions of the program.

This new program was known as the Approved Seed Plan. The field Crops Department of the Farm Bureau appointed a state committee which worked closely with the agricultural extension service and the Department of Agronomy to guide the program. The first crop produced under the Approved Seed Plan was grown in 1931. The Approved Seed Plan while operating unofficially that year was more or less officially adopted as a state program in January of 1932. The use of the word "certified" to describe the product appears not to have been used at any time following 1929. The word "Calapproved" was coined, and seems to have been used first in July 1932. The word was copywrited by the California Farm Bureau Feder­ation and continued to be used for a good many years.

The state committee guiding the Approved Seed Plan, which by 1936 had become known as the California Farm Bureau Approved Seed Plan, became more formally organized in 1936. Five districts were formed in the state, each of which elected a grower representative. In addition to this there were appointed representatives from the Extension Service, Department of Agronomy, and the Farm Bureau. J. E. Coke remained the guiding light in the program through 1934. Mr. B.J. Jones succeeded Mr. Coke in 1935, and continued to provide the leadership of the Agricultural Extension Service. Coke and Jones, throughout the period of the state office function being with the Agricultural Extension Service, worked closely with members of the Department of Agronomy at Davis. Individuals in that department who played a prominent part in guiding the program were F. N. Briggs, G. A. Wiebe, and C. A. Suneson. The crops of primary interest still remained the small grains. However, the certification of light red kidney beans got under way in 1932 and became successful due considerably to the efforts of M. C. Collins, then Farm Advisor of Yuba County. As a result of his enthusiastic participation, seed growers in the Marysville area began to develop a market for their certified light red kidney beans in the State of New York, which found that the California seed was free of diseases particularly bacterial blight.

The interest in certification expanded rapidly during the 30's. It became obvious that the program could not be operated indefinitely as an incidental part of the extension agronomists' activities. This was indicated in a letter Mr. Alex Johnson of the Farm Bureau sent to the University of California on February 24, 1936. He referred to a resolution by the Farm Bureau asking the College of Agriculture to assign a separate man to the Calapproved Seed Program. The program which had started in 1931 with 1,265 acres had become by 1935 a program with 7,233 acres and 113 growers participating.

The work of the program continued to be carried in 1936 and 1937 by Jones, Briggs, and Suneson. In the mean time it was agreed by the Agricultural Extension Service and the Department of Agronomy that a man should be employed whose entire time would be spent on approved seed. It was finally agreed that such a position could best be provided for by the Department of Agronomy. The position was created and filled by F. G. Parsons, December 1, 1937. By this time it was apparent that while the use of the term "Calapproved” had many desirable features the rest of the country was confused as to whether or not it was equivalent to the term "certified" as used in other states. The use of the word "certified" therefore was begun again in 1940 by which time there were 277 growers in California with 16,358 acres.


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During the next few years the acreage continued to expand with there being 18,759 acres in 1945. In 1944 the Approved Seed Plan was incorporated as the California Crop Improvement Association, thus to be more nearly in line with the type of organization elsewhere in the country. This organization was officially incorporated June 15, 1944. Its by-laws provided for a board of directors similar in many respects to the state committee formerly governing the program. The number of elected grower representatives was increased to eight, with eight appointed rep­resentatives from various cooperating agencies. The Crop Improvement Association was incorporated as a non-profit corporation to engage in the certification of seed, and became recognized for that purpose under the State Seed Law.

While the use of the term "Calapproved" had considerable value, the Farm Bureau did not wish to turn it over completely to the California Crop Improve­ment Association, so therefore the latter decided to discontinue its use in the fall of 1946. Since that time the word "Calapproved" has been used by a market­ing organization known as the Calapproved Seed Growers Association which was or­ganized in 1949.


By 1950 the certified seed program had 1,429 growers with 65,412 acres. It became obvious that more help was needed in carrying on the work; therefore, Mr. Burt Ray was employed in 1950. Just prior to this period, certified alfalfa seed came into prominence in California as a result of alfalfa breeders deciding that winter hardy types of alfalfa seed could be grown in a warm climate if pro­duction was limited to first generation stands. Such a requirement made certifi­cation a natural to assure that alfalfa seed coming out of a warm region would be satisfactory for planting in cold areas--thus there came about the beginning of a large scale certified alfalfa seed industry in California.

In 1953 Warren Johnson was employed by the State Department of Agriculture out of Crop Improvement Association funds to assist agricultural commissioners in carrying out the regulatory functions of the certified seed program. It was during this same year that the Certified Alfalfa Seed Council was born. Since that time it has become favorably known throughout the United States as an exceptionally high type of promotion program devoted to the increased usage of certified alfalfa seed.

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In 1955 there were 1,498 growers with 178,044 acres including virtually every field crop grown in California. Ranger alfalfa, as an example, rapidly expanded from 44,000 acres in 1954 to 88,000 acres in 1955.

In 1957 the Crop Improvement Association inspected 210,000 acres--an all time high for the state. That same year 66,000,000 pounds of alfalfa was certified-­-an industry which accounts for over 4/5 of the certified alfalfa seed produced in the nation and more than 1/3 of the total alfalfa seed planted in the nation.

In 1958 another position was added to the staff managing the state certi­fication program. In February of that year Mr. Robert Ball was employed to spend full time in the certification office and direct most of the day to day details of the program. Mr. Warren Johnson was transferred to other work, and was re­placed by Mr. Lawrence A. Schacker. By this time 129 varieties of crops were being certified, seed of which had a total value of between $25,000,000 and $30,000,000. Much of this is in seeds that are exported out of the state for use elsewhere in the nation or world. A large part of the value of the program, however, is in providing good seed for planting by California farmers.

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