The Essence of Quality Control at High Mowing

“Quality Control is the circulatory system of a seed company, where the seeds are constantly cycling their way through,” says Melanie Hernandez, our Germination Testing Specialist. Melanie oversees all the QC operations here at High Mowing Organic Seeds.  Before joining us at High Mowing, she owned a certified organic transplant nursery outside Atlanta, GA, where she germinated millions of seeds.  Now she spends her hours germinating seeds for an entirely different cause: to assist HMS in delivering the highest quality organic seeds to you, our valued customers.

Melanie tests all our incoming seed for germination and purity, and performs “cycle counts” every four to six months to assess changes in germination rates on all lots of inventoried seed. She also tests for GMOs and diseases on seed lots that we deem to be at risk. She works with outside labs when Phytosanitary Certificates and/or Blue Certificates are required for cross-border sales.

Incoming Contract Seed

September brings on the busy season in the lab when all of the “dirty” seed samples have begun to come in from our own farm and from contract growers.  During harvest, a dirty seed sample straight from the field is brought or sent to the lab for a quick analysis to determine viability and how much cleaning is needed. Once a lot has been fully cleaned, it undergoes a full purity and germination test prior to packaging and sale.

Incoming Purchased Seed

Purchased seed is expected to arrive clean and viable, but we run all seed through our lab to confirm germination and purity anyways. A purity test looks at the percent of non-seed, which may include the following:

  • Inert matter (dirt, chaff, etc)
  • Other crop seeds (such as wheat seeds found in a radish crop)
  • Weed seed
  • Pure seed

Weed seeds must be identified to be sure a crop is not coming in with noxious weed seeds.  Melanie takes visual notes as to whether the pure seeds are vibrant, dull, darkened, etc.  Unlike many other seed companies, we have an onsite seed cleaning mill, so we have the rare opportunity to choose to further clean a seed lot in our mill to remove impurities and increase germination.

Regular Cycle Tests

Every six months (four months for onions and pelleted lettuce), each seed lot undergoes a new test to make certain it remains viable. Melanie has a complex testing schedule to ensure that every lot is tested and the updated germination rate is recorded in our database. Once the tests are complete in a given month, all packaged seed (above the mini-packet size) is relabeled with the new germination rate. If a lot fails the germination test during cycle counting, the seed is pulled from the shelf and either donated or destroyed. If it so happens that this seed was recently sold before we knew the germination rate had dropped, we replace the seed or issue credits.

QC is the Lifeblood of Our Seed Company

While the seeds themselves are important, it is the quality control program here at High Mowing that gives our company strength and vitality. Quality control helps ensure that we are always selling the highest quality organic seed available on the market.

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7 Responses to The Essence of Quality Control at High Mowing

  1. Nicole says:

    Fascinating article. Thanks for providing the information!

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  3. Dan Oursland says:

    How do you test a seed to tell if it is GMO?
    Will a GMO plant produce more GMO seeds?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Hi Dan,

      Great questions! To answer the first one: GMO testing is primarily done for high-risk crops like field corn and sweet corn. Our field corn is tested here at High Mowing using what is called a strip test or ELISA. Seeds are ground up with a buffer solution in a blender, allowed to settle, then the liquid is drawn off and tested by dipping a strip into it that detects Roundup Ready genes. Sweet corn is sent to a lab for GMO testing since the high sugar content prevents the ELISA test from working properly.
      Many other varieties are also tested for GMOs by our contract growers or companies from which we buy seed. In addition, we are careful to buy seeds that do not come from areas where they could be contaminated. In some cases this can be tricky. Canola, for example, an ingredient in some of our sprout mixes, must be sourced from areas where GMO canola has never been grown, since GMO canola has cross-pollinated and contaminated its wild relatives, which can in turn contaminate organic canola. The canola in our mixes is carefully tested and certified GMO-free by our suppliers.
      To answer your second question: Yes, a seed that contains GM genetics will grow into a plant that has GM genetics and will produce GM seed. The level of contamination of its seed depends on the variety that cross-pollinates it. It would require a lot of careful breeding before the offspring of the original seeds no longer display GM traits.

      • Peter says:

        In regards to this, are you able to say how much of the organic corn seed coming from your suppliers is, in fact, GMO contaminated? I know that the guys over at Baker Creek have said in their catalog that they are having an increasingly hard time with this based on GMO contamination they find during testing, and that some varieties can no longer be offered.

        I guess part of the question for this too for you guys, is if you store any clean samples for long-term storage?

        • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

          Hi Peter,

          I am happy to say that we have not had this problem. We are unusual as seed companies go in that we grow much of our own corn seed, being very careful to provide adequate distances between plantings to avoid unwanted cross-pollination. We are fortunate to have access to many different fields so that crops can be separated as needed. Our growers also use this rule of thumb to reduce contamination risk. In our last two years of testing data we have never had a corn variety, either grown by us or by a contract grower, test positive for GMOs. We keep our tested samples for quite a while – until we discontinue the variety, and then usually for another 9 months after that.

  4. Good to know you have a quality control & testing program. I like knowing my seed is coming from good sources and that the ones grown on your seed farm are grown in northern conditions as my farm is located in northern New Hampshire.

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