Certification – a Key Aspect

French seed maize production is the result of a joint effort between the Inspection Service of the FNPSMS and the Official Control and Certification Office, working against the background of a highly-structured industry. This specific structure guarantees the technical expertise and commitment of all its stakeholders.

Due to its complexity, seed production is highly-regulated and every one of its actors has a specific responsibility, in a clearly-defined framework.

France’s Maize Seed Production Is Closely-monitored through Certification

France’s regulatory framework requires that the seed be formally certified inside the country before being marketed. The certification consists in affixing the SOC Certificate (a blue label) on the bags of seeds that are sold to growers. The system – developed by the French Ministry of Agriculture (and delegated to the Official Control Service of the GNIS) – and its professionals are recognised as one of the strictest in the world. Moreover, the standards that are actually applied by growers and companies, in fields as well as in plants are generally above the minimum regulatory requirements.

Certification involves several levels and different actors throughout the production process.

The GNIS identifies three types of certification :

  • Hybrid certification, which concerns hybrid identity and purity; it consists in checking seed parental lineages and growers’ observance of multiplication plot regulations, as well as carrying out crop inspections;
  • Agronomic certification, which guarantees specific purity and the seeds’ germinating ability. These quality criteria undergo tests that are carried out according to international regulations. – ISTA
  • Sanitary certification, which guarantees the absence of, or the lowest presence of, potential pests. It is done through crop inspections and laboratory checks.

The SOC carries out a posteriori checks to ensure compliance of marketed amounts, in terms of the certification criteria: hybrid identity and purity, germination ability, and specific purity.

French Certification System – a Performance Vector

In France, seed and plant quality inspection and certification is an activity that the Ministry of Agriculture has entrusted to the GNIS. In order to carry it out, the GNIS relies on its technical service, called the Official Control Service (*in French: le Service Officiel de Contrôle) – or the SOC. The SOC is accredited to certify seeds and plants under the NF EN ISO/CEI 17065* International Standard.

  • Seed and plant certification brings three major safeguards to the grower:
    It guarantees hybrid identity and purity. Growers need to be sure that the seeds/plants they buy comply with the standards of their chosen hybrid. That way, they are certain of getting the harvest they wish and meeting the requirements of their customers – be they processors, retailers, or consumers.
  • It guarantees the quality parameters of the seeds. These parameters include, on the one hand, specific purity (almost complete absence of foreign matter such as soil, impurities, broken grains or other plant species) and on the other hand, germination.
  • It guarantees the phytosanitary quality of the seeds and plants – in other words, the fact that they are free of disease (fungi, viruses, etc).

Certification standards:

  • Germination percentage: minimum 90 percent
  • Moisture content: maximum 14 percent
  • Specific purity: minimum 98 percent (of weight)
  • Maximum content of grains of other species: 0%

Crop Inspection – a Key Element in the Certification Process

Crop inspection consists in checking whether crops comply with the Technical Regulation regarding the production, verification, and certification of seeds and plants, as well as inspecting seed batches upon their arrival at the processing plant.

Field crop inspection represents the first link in the certification chain. Therefore, the grower will allow the Inspection Service representatives to visit and inspect their standing crops, at various moments during the production season. The purpose of the visits is to check the crops’ compliance with the Technical Regulation provisions. The inspections are carried out by the Licensed Technicians (TA), who make precise and plotted observations and look at the methods that the grower has used in order to apply the Technical Regulation.

The production plots are therefore submitted to regular inspections. Right after field clean-up, the Inspection Service checks the compliance of the foundation seed lots, the plot identification, the isolation measures, and the crop condition. Upon maize detasseling, the Licensed Technicians assess the quality of the operation and fill up a score sheet, which will eventually determine the status of the plot. These daily records are vital for ensuring optimum seed quality and hybrid purity.

Actors Involved in Crop Inspection:

> Growers manage their crops in accordance with production regulations and leave it up to the Licensed Technicians to verify crop compliance. The grower is responsible for the compliance of their crops before the SOC.

The Licensed Technician [TA, in French] assesses the compliance of the plots according to the Technical Regulation and makes a classification thereof after having inspected the fields. The Supervising Technician [TE, in French] – who works under the coordination of a Technical Officer – is in charge with supervising the Licensed Technicians’ technical and administrative activities.

> On-site crop inspection has been entrusted to a designated Technical Officer, who is appointed and qualified by the F.N.P.S.M.S. The Technical Officer is in charge with implementing the local activities and monitoring the way in which they are organised.

Les acteurs de l'inspection des cultures

All the above actors see to the enforcement of the Technical Regulation, under the supervision of the SOC inspectors, who carry out formal, random crop inspections. The actors are also committed to observing the principles of confidentiality, independence, and impartiality.

Closely-monitored Production Islands

Every year, crop scoring activities are carried out by more than 450 technicians, supervised by twenty technical officers. This assessment activity results in 2000 documents and 9000 inspection sheets. For the past few years, the hard-copy scoring has been gradually replaced by a Smartphone application, which allows technicians to fill in the necessary data while on site.

The quality of the inspections relies on the specialised personnel’s qualification, skills, and work methods. To this end, before the beginning of every production season, everyone takes part in training sessions that allows them to get a SOC accreditation, which is indispensable to their activity.

The a posteriori inspections highlight the performance of the system. The inspections – which are carried out every year – are aimed at verifying hybrid purity across the entire French maize seed production industry.

Inspections at the Plant

The quest for quality does not stop with the seeds leaving the field. Laboratory staff of each company carries out inspections at every processing stage in the plant (sorting, conditioning, etc). Every seed batch intended for marketing is checked for compliance with strict standards and undergoes tests to determine end product quality. Qualified personnel working for the seed companies (or even the SOC, in case of routine checks) take samples from each seed batch, according to a strict procedure and using specific equipment. Subsequent tests guarantee the industrial value of the seeds (specific purity, germinating ability, vigour, etc) before they are sent to the market.

Moreover, the French system makes it mandatory for the industry operators to have designated areas for seed batch preparation, individual recording of harvests, cob sorting, threshing, cleaning, grading, and safe storage of seeds.

Usine production de semences

Inter-lab “Circuit” Guarantees Criteria Consistency  

Only the SOC-accredited laboratories can carry out tests that determine seed quality and can clear the certification of seed batches.

Every year, the FNPSMS/GERM-Services Laboratory organises “inter-laboratory circuits” of test samples, to allow the various participating laboratories to assess the accuracy of their measurements and thus help maintain the coherence and objectivity needed in the tests.The circuits focus mainly on tests regarding germination, vigour, GMO presence, moisture content, food & feed quality, and presence of foreign matter or active ingredients.

Moreover, the FNPSMS also runs a technical commission in charge with writing studies that tackle complex and specific issues such as X-ray imagery and vigour tests, and maintain a widely-acknowledged level of expertise.

Delegating – Role of the FNPSMS

The SOC has delegated the maize seed crop inspection activities to the FNPSMS – a Cofrac-accredited body. To carry out that mission, the FNPSMS has been accredited as an “Inspection Body” by the French Accreditation Commission (COFRAC 17020 Standard).

Therefore, the FNPSMS provides the structure, the equipment and the personnel needed to carry out the inspection activities.

The activities are carried out via the Maize Seed Producer Unions or any other local structure working on behalf of the companies in charge with seed production.

The decision to delegate the inspection activities to professionals via the FNPSMS has allowed the industry to increase the number of its official standing crop inspections from five (the minimum regulatory requirement) to twelve (under current practice).