Improving seed quality in large-scale production of native seed

ESR 8C –Maria Marin

Improving seed quality in the large scale production of native seeds by establishing achievable quality standards is the final goal of my project. I am based in Scotland, at Scotia Seeds, the leading UK company in developing and improving the quality of native seeds used in habitat creation and restoration projects. The company is in a unique position having a technical capacity to carry out seed science linked directly to production in collecting, crop growing, harvesting, processing and storage.Despite increased commercial seed production, there has been little work to establish quality testing of native seeds. There are neither regulatory levels nor industry standards.

Most native seed sold is not certified and is traded without germination results being available, since there is a lack of methodology for many native species. Furthermore, the presence of dormancy and range of dormancy types in native populations has yet to be established.

In order to achieve this, protocols were developed to determine conditions for dormancy breaking and germination in these species, while a survey was conducted to assess the seed quality of European native species from a wide range of EU native seed suppliers to establish a baseline of seed quality for the development of industry standards. The results revealed quality problems in a high proportion of the native seed lots being sold in the EU market. Total germination was very variable between samples of the same species, ranging from 0% to 99%, suggesting that there is a great potential for improvement to prevent inferior seeds being sold.

The tetrazolium test was evaluated as a technique to be used for native species to quickly estimate the quality of seed samples and an efficient procedure was determined for carrying out the test in eight native species. The electrical conductivity of seed soak water was identified as a further test of native seed quality that could be completed in only 24 hours.

The research will also lead to the development of production protocols to improve seed quality, plant establishment and seed production efficiency including species-specific dormancy-breaking treatments and application of enhancement treatments, such as priming. In particular, the effectiveness of artificial shading on plant performance, seed quality and yield in Primula vulgaris cultivation will be evaluated, while the hypothesis that the mean germination time of Rhinanthus minor seeds affects germination, field emergence and development stages that take place later than germination will be tested.