Kansas Crop Improvement Association

Trusted seed certification and testing build industry integrity
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

Since 1902, Kansas Crop Improvement Association (KCIA), a not-for-profit, membership-based, member-supported corporation, has served producers in various capacities. KCIA’s main role is as the designated authority for seed certification in the State of Kansas. In addition to seed certification services, KCIA offers networking and educational opportunities, consulting, auditing, farm-field inspections and a state-of-the-art testing laboratory for the seed industry and other crop production related businesses.

KCIA traces its roots to the early 1900s when a group of farmers joined together to form The Kansas Corn Breeders Association. These producers partnered with researchers at Kansas State Agricultural College (what is now Kansas State University) to improve on open-pollinated varieties of corn. “We started much like other crop improvement organizations around the country,” says Steve Schuler, executive director of KCIA. “At first, the collaboration was targeted specifically at improved open-pollinated corn varieties, but by 1914, wheat had gained substantial acreage and we changed our name to KCIA to reflect our interest in all crop types.”

Kansas Crop Improvement Association

The seed authority

Before seed certification, farmers had few protections when purchasing seed. “They might be given the wrong variety, or buy the same variety but with a different name. There was a time when Turkey Red wheat was sold under 15 to 20 different names,” explains Schuler. “In the 1930s, with the passing of the Federal Seed Act and individual state seed acts, the foundation was laid for a certification program to protect the farmer when purchasing seed, though many states had voluntary certification programs prior.”

In 1924, Kanred was the first wheat certified in Kansas. In 1936, after the Federal Seed Act was passed, states began to implement more laws. “In 1937, the Kansas Legislature designated authority to Kansas State University to oversee seed certification and KCIA was an obvious choice to partner in this effort,” says Schuler.

For many years, KCIA called the KSU main campus home, but in 1986 the organization’s members decided KCIA needed its own facility. “We built our current office in Manhattan, Kansas, on land that is part of the KSU agronomy farm,” says Schuler. “Around the same time, we added our seed quality testing laboratory.”

KCIA is closely tied to KSU, yet remains independent. “We operate under a memorandum of understanding with KSU to provide official seed certification services for Kansas. The head of the agronomy department, and a representative of the director of the KSU Ag Extension both hold ex officio positions on our board and I have to provide an annual financial audit to the university. KSU has this oversight because we are essentially fulfilling their mandate from our state legislature to conduct a seed certification program. We are very proud of our relationship with KSU,” says Schuler.

Leading lab testing and research

KCIA’s seed testing lab is an important part of the organization and serves as the only seed-quality testing laboratory in the state. As any producer knows, quality seed is the foundation of a successful crop — no extra amount of fertilizer, favorable weather or chemical treatments can totally compensate for a poor plant stand. The easiest and safest way to determine seed quality is to have it tested at a qualified seed testing laboratory, such as KCIA’s.

KCIA’s seed quality lab is recognized by the Society of Commercial Seed Technologists and the Association of Official Seed Analysis (AOSA). The KCIA seed lab offers purity analysis, germination, noxious weed examination, accelerated aging, cold test, seed count, protein, tetrazolium and herbicide tolerance (RR and STS) testing.

“We conduct our seed analysis according to AOSA rules and participate in their auditing program for performance,” says Schuler. “We also are authorized through the USDA to conduct inspections under the Organization of Economic Cooperative Development [OECD] seed schemes though in Kansas we haven’t had a lot of activity in this area. We can pretty much do anything our members or the industry brings to us in need.”

KCIA maintains a website at kscrop.org, and here producers can find seed source directories, information on producing certified seed, and other information of value to both members and the general seed-buying public.

Keeping pace with expansion

Schuler, who holds a doctorate in agriculture, has been in the seed business since 1995 and he says the market is changing rapidly. “When I finished my doctorate program, I worked as an agronomist for several years,” he recounts. “A position opened up with KCIA as a field services inspector and I joined KCIA in 1999. In 2010, I took over as executive director. I haven’t hired back my old position yet; I still tackle both jobs and I’ve been working on our infrastructure here at our facility, including new equipment for the lab and facility upgrades. Right now we’re working on reinvesting.”

KCIA has a small, but very capable staff. “Eric Fabrizius, who holds a master’s degree in agriculture, serves both as associate director and as the seed laboratory manager,” says Schuler. “Pam Steinmeyer and Rayshell Colson are both registered seed technologists; Nancy Urbauer is our office administrator, and Ardyce Kuhn, who has been with KCIA since 1956, is our bookkeeper and helps get me through our annual audit. In addition, we are governed by a 13-member board of directors who, except for our two ex officio positions, are elected from our general membership.”

“We’re seeing more varieties come to the market than we have in the past,” adds Schuler. “I think the market in Kansas is going to have to grow to support these companies. We’re starting to see some certified-seed only programs for wheat in the United States and that will be good for the industry.”

Seed certification is a reliable and economic seed increase and distribution program. It is a valuable tool for genetics providers to bring their varieties to market in a manner that maintains integrity of that variety while tapping into a network of professional seedsmen who, though working independently, produce seed under a uniform system of standards to achieve a stable supply of quality seed.

Seed certification benefits farmers by providing quality seed of the varieties he or she needs to achieve crop management goals — but it doesn’t stop there says Schuler. “The farmer benefits in that his or her legal seed purchase is what drives research and development of the next great variety,” he explains. “So it is correct to say that farmer is not only investing in today’s crop, but also in tomorrow’s crop, planting a yet-to-be-developed variety.” As more varieties enter the market and the agriculture industry continues to change in many unforeseen ways, Kansas Crop Improvement Association continues its mission, allowing for integrity-based quality assurance programs that provide superior seed and plant products and ultimately, a healthy industry.

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