Sunday, May 23, 2010

Checking up on seed companies

Problems with poor quality seeds are a big problem in Chinese agriculture. The seed market is often described as chaotic.

In April, the Ministry of Agriculture released the results of its 2009 tests for seed quality. The Ministry chooses a sample of companies and seed varieties to test each year. At first glance, the compliance rate looks pretty good, but they admit that one-third of the companies selected failed to submit samples. So the results may be meaningless if companies that know their seeds have problems didn't submit to the tests.

The Ministry tested 212 samples of hybrid corn and rice seeds from 139 companies nationwide: 118 corn samples and 94 rice seed samples. Samples were selected from commercial seed varieties sold by the companies. They were tested for moisture, variety purity, and germination rate.

For corn seeds the compliance rate was 89.8%. Seventy of the 81 companies were completely in compliance. Results for rice seeds were better: only 2 samples failed. The Ministry listed the companies and seeds that failed. The chief problems were with excessive moisture and variety purity. The results for the 13 companies that had problems are available in an excel file (in Chinese).

Two companies are singled out for having chronic problems. Liaoning Tiexu Scientific had problems with corn seeds in this round and in previous year's tests. The provincial agriculture commission was asked to withdraw this company's license. Shandong Zhouyuan Co. had two types of corn seed that failed purity tests and also had problems in spring 2009 tests. The provincial agriculture commission has been asked to carry out direct monitoring of the company; the company's operations will be suspended during the rectification period.

Of the 207 companies selected for sampling, 68 of them failed to submit seeds for testing. The report notes that the proportion of companies not submitting samples has been increasing due to various reasons, possibly deliberately avoiding testing. A list of the companies that failed to submit samples was published as an attachment.

It's good to see the details of the testing revealed so people can evaluate the results. A step forward for transparency. However, the results reflect continuing problems with China's seeds.

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