Understanding Variety Names in the Seed and Grain Sectors
The appropriate use of variety names is critical to the success of the entire Canadian grain value chain, from variety development to processors.
While seed regulations prohibit the use of wheat variety names unless used in relation to pedigreed seed, grain regulations encourage producers to use wheat variety names when declaring class of wheat delivered into the commercial grain handling system. This can sometimes lead to confusion.
This Q&A is intended to provide clarity on the proper use of variety names and to help increase understanding in these areas:
Variety Names and Seed Types
Variety names are used through seed production and sales, crop production and crop marketing. Where are you in the process?
- Seed is (legally) acquired
- Purchased certified seed (e.g., Certified Seed)
- Legally used farm saved seed
- Crop is grown from seed of a known variety
- Crop is sold by farmer to grain elevator
- Many grains are purchased by variety. For example, wheat is currently declared by the producer as being eligible for a class (using a grower declaration). The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) determines and lists the varieties that are eligible for each wheat class. For other crop kinds, if variety registration is required, the variety must be registered in order to receive a CGC grade other than the lowest grade (i.e. feed) unless an exemption is issued by the CGC. The producer is paid according to grade determined by the grain company, and agreed to by the producer, at delivery.
- Grain is handled by grain company
- In an elevator, crops are blended with deliveries from other producers of the same class and type. Grain is transported in bulk, mostly by rail car and vessel, to the buyer. At export terminal elevators, grain may be further blended before shipment to its final destination.
- Grain is marketed to end-users
- Grain is marketed according to standards such as by class or crop type, grade, quality specifications and/or variety. Classes are groups of varieties with similar end-use characteristics that are of importance to processors.
Why are variety names important and how do they affect my business?
Understanding the rules for the use of variety names helps you accurately identify products throughout the value chain and follow federal laws governing seed and grain.
Marketing seed by its correct variety name is an internationally recognized way to ensure new crop genetics and their variety-specific characteristics provide benefits to all participants in the crop production value chain. The inappropriate use of variety names can be misleading, resulting in unexpected crop performance or inaccurate delivery declarations by producers.
Seed vendors and variety developers are also impacted. If the name of a variety is misused, the variety may not perform as expected and earn the expected financial returns for the farmer, and the variety reputation can be harmed. Without adequate returns, future research investment in new varieties will not be made.
Are varieties tested for different purposes by different organizations?
Yes, varieties are tested for three different “regulatory” purposes (using different methods and interpretations):
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA): The CFIA oversees the seed certification process (under the authority of the Seeds Act). Pedigreed or certified seed is tested to verify that the purity and identity of the variety is maintained throughout the process of multiplying the small amounts of seed supplied by plant breeders into larger quantities for use by commercial farmers.
- Canadian Grain Commission (CGC): The CGC monitors commercial export vessel shipments of wheat for the presence of unregistered varieties or varieties of other classes of wheat (under the authority of the Canada Grain Act).
- Intellectual Property (IP) Protection: Developers and distributors seek variety testing to support investigations protecting their IP rights under the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act.
Testing is also used by breeders to ensure that they are not inappropriately using another breeder’s variety.
What is a seed variety?
Within each species or crop kind (e.g., oats, wheat, etc.), varieties are more precisely defined as ‘populations of plants with the same distinguishing characteristics that retain these characteristics when reproduced.’ Such a population is a variety.
For seed certification requirements, a variety must be distinguishable, uniform, and stable when reproduced. For Intellectual Property protection requirements, a variety must also be unique or distinct.
What is ‘pedigreed’ seed (also known as ‘certified’ seed)?
Pedigreed seed is seed of a known variety or genetic identity whose ancestry can be traced back to the plant breeder who developed it. In Canada, pedigreed or certified seed is from a crop that has met the varietal identity and purity certification standards of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) and the seed regulatory certification standards of the CFIA.
There are five categories of pedigreed seed in Canada:
- Breeder Seed – seed produced and maintained by the plant breeder
- Select Seed – multiplication seed distributed to plot producers accredited by CSGA
- Foundation Seed – multiplication seed distributed to seed growers of the CSGA
- Registered Seed – multiplication seed distributed to seed growers of the CSGA
- Certified Seed – seed recommended for use by commercial farmers
NOTE: Seed potatoes have different seed classes, which are set out in the Seeds Regulations.
The pedigree of a seed lot includes the documented history of the generations of seed involved in multiplying Breeder seed to Certified seed. Producing pedigreed seed through the seed certification system provides confidence in the varietal identity and purity of the seed variety. It also protects the buyer’s interests by ensuring that the seed meets specific quality standards and maintains the distinguishing characteristics of that variety which includes standards for germination and “physical purity” (i.e., relative freedom from seeds of weeds and other crop kinds).
What is ‘common’ seed?
Common seed refers to non-pedigreed seed whose origin (as a variety) or purity has not been verified by certification. Common seed can include seed that has lost its pedigreed status because it has not met varietal purity standards or the prescribed quality standards for pedigreed seed. Both farm-saved seed and commercial (“brown bag”) seed are non-pedigreed or common seed. Under the Seeds Act, common seed of most agricultural crop kinds cannot be sold by variety name.
What is the difference between a crop kind (type) and variety?
A ‘crop kind’ is a group of plants normally of the same species whereas a ‘variety’ is a sub-group of plants within a specific crop kind, with the same distinguishing characteristics that retain these characteristics when reproduced. Within a crop kind, groups of varieties may be of a specific type such as feed barley and malting barley. Examples of crop kinds are soybean and barley; examples of soybean varieties are Santo R2 and CF12GR, and examples of barley varieties are AC Metcalfe and Celebration. Typically, there are many different varieties within one crop kind and each variety is distinguished by its own unique characteristics.
What is a seed variety name?
A seed variety name is a word(s), number(s), or a combination of word(s) and number(s), used to designate a variety (e.g., AC Metcalfe, CF12GR).
How do variety names facilitate trade of grains, oilseeds, and specialty crops?
Varieties are bred not only for agronomic traits, but also for end-use characteristics demanded by buyers both domestically and abroad. Variety names are used to ensure that those end-use characteristics are maintained throughout the supply chain. Variety names are a critical part of Canada’s grain quality assurance framework that is used to market Canadian grains and oilseeds.
How are variety names used in Canadian crop insurance programs?
While requirements differ between provinces, all crop insurance programs refer to the variety name of the seed that was planted. Depending on the crop kind, some crop insurance programs designate varieties that are insurable, some require proof of the variety that was planted, and others have different premium or payment levels based on the variety.
What is the purpose of variety registration?
Variety registration is required for 53 crop kinds commonly grown in Canada. The purpose of variety registration is to provide government oversight to ensure that health and safety requirements are met and that information on the identity of the variety is available to regulators to prevent fraud. It also facilitates seed certification, the international trade of seed, and the tracking and tracing of varieties in commercial channels.
What is the process for variety registration?
The variety registration process requires an application to the CFIA, a reference sample of the seed, a complete description of the variety, and other variety-specific information. The Variety Registration Office reviews the submitted information and registers the variety when all requirements are met.
The Seeds Regulations partitions the list of crop types requiring registration of varieties (Schedule III) into three parts with differing requirements for each part:
- Part I requires pre-registration testing and merit assessment, as well as the basic requirements for variety registration applications
- Part II requires pre-registration testing as well as the basic requirements for variety registration applications
- Part III requires basic registration requirements only.
How are variety names included in variety registration and seed certification?
Variety registration includes approval of the proposed name for a new variety. The approved variety name becomes the name by which the variety is known for all official records, including the certificate of registration and official tags for seed certification.
To be eligible for seed certification, even varieties of crop kinds not subject to variety registration must have variety names. In all cases, no person shall use a variety name, whether registered or not, unless the seed is of that variety.
What is the difference between a brand and a variety name?
A brand is a word, number, design or other feature that distinguishes one company’s product from those of other companies. A brand is often trademarked. In the case of crop kinds, or types subject to variety registration, or Plant Breeders’ Rights, neither a variety name nor any part of it is allowed to be trademarked. Care must be taken to avoid confusion between a brand name and a variety name. While a variety must be ‘distinguishable, uniform and stable,’ a brand can be used to represent a product in broader terms, but not specific agronomic attributes. The Seeds Regulations prohibit the use of any brand name or mark that might be construed or perceived as the name of a variety. The brand name must be followed by the word Brand, or TM, or ®. For example: if a company has a brand DMX and a variety registered as 1234, then the company may advertise the variety using one of: DMXTM 1234 or DMX® 1234 or DMX Brand 1234. It is not acceptable to advertise the variety as: DMX 1234 or DMX1234.
How are variety names used in seed certification?
Seed certification is a process whereby the identity of a variety is maintained and assured by a third party through various cycles of seed multiplication (i.e. small quantities of Breeder seed are increased to Certified seed for planting by farmers). Seed certification includes planting of eligible ‘stock seed’ (Breeder, Select, Foundation or Registered), field inspections, harvesting, processing, sampling, testing, grading and labelling. At every step in the process, the variety name is used to identify the seed – whether in the field, in the processing establishment, in the bin or in the bag. Certified seed must always be labelled with the variety name when sold.
Can I use a variety name when I am labelling, advertising, and selling seed?
Only pedigreed seed of the crop kinds listed in Schedule II of the Seeds Regulations and graded with a Canada pedigreed grade name may be labelled, advertised or sold with a variety name. However, common (non-pedigreed) seed of the crop kinds listed in Schedule II may not be labelled, advertised or sold with a variety name.
For seed of all other crop kinds not listed in Schedule II, variety names may be used.
Can unregistered varieties be sold in Canada?
Schedule III of the Seeds Regulations lists the crop kinds that are subject to variety registration. The Seeds Act prohibits the sale of unregistered varieties of those crop kinds listed in Schedule III. The two exceptions are:
- for the production of pedigreed seed, or;
- for the production of a crop for evaluation of its suitability for processing if the variety is entered into variety registration trials.
Seed of an unregistered variety of a crop kind listed in Schedule III may not be labelled as common seed and sold without its variety name in an attempt to circumvent the Seeds Act.
Can seed be sold in Canada by variety name if labelled with a Common grade name?
Common (non-pedigreed) seed of the crop kinds listed in Schedule II may not be labelled, advertised or sold with a variety name. However, common seed of crop kinds not listed in Schedule II may be labelled, advertised or sold with a variety name.
A seed lot that is a blend of Certified seed made by an approved conditioner registered by the CFIA, may be labelled with the names of the varieties even though the seed lot is labelled with a common grade name.
Seed Variety Testing
What type of variety testing is done for seed regulatory purposes?
Seed regulators plant samples of seed and observe visually distinguishing characteristics in the resulting plants to verify the identity and purity of the seed variety; this process is called a ‘grow-out test.’ For comparison purposes, grow-out tests involve planting rows of seed being tested alongside rows of Breeder seed of that same variety. Visually distinguishable varietal impurities (off-types) can then be identified at various growth stages. Biochemical and molecular tests, such as herbicide bioassays, electrophoresis and DNA genotyping, may be used to verify the presence of non-visual distinguishing characteristics.
|For more information on varietal identity, varietal purity, and the use of biochemical and molecular techniques, click here for the Canadian Seed Certification System: Use of Biochemical and Molecular Techniques factsheet.|
What are the differences between ‘varietal identity’ and ‘varietal purity’ testing methods for seed regulatory purposes?
Varietal identity testing checks the correct identify of a variety. It compares a sample of variety A to a known reference sample, usually Breeder seed, and to the official description of variety A. Most non-compliant test results are due to incorrect labelling of storage bins or samples.
Varietal purity testing quantifies the varietal impurity (off-types) levels – i.e., the number of seeds or plants that are not variety A in a sample of variety A. Non-compliant test results can be due to cross-contamination with another variety during seed production, harvest or processing or from a genetic shift of the variety over time.
The CFIA’s variety verification program includes both varietal identity and varietal purity testing.
|For more information on the use of variety genetic testing, click here for an article on Product Identification Versus Process Verification.|
Intellectual Property Rights
How are variety names used with farm-saved seed of a variety protected under the Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) Act?
Canadian farmers are able to save, clean, treat, store and replant seed of a PBR-protected variety for their own use (unless the farm-saved privilege has been overruled by a contract or agreement that forbids farm-saved seed). The grain grown from that seed can be sold by the variety name. Under the PBR Act, the breeder has rights over all propagating material or seed of the variety. These rights include the reproduction, exportation, importation, conditioning, and stocking of propagating material of the variety. The breeder’s rights do not extend to production, reproduction, conditioning, and storing/stocking of harvested material of the protected plant variety grown by a farmer on the farmer’s holdings and used by the farmer on their own holdings for the purpose of propagating the variety (i.e. farm-saved seed). If a farmer has authorization from the PBR rights holder to sell seed of a protected variety, it must always be labelled by the variety name/approved under the PBR Act. Even if seed of a protected variety is not labelled by the variety name, it is still legally considered seed of the protected variety and is subject to the same terms and conditions as seed labelled by variety name. Nothing in the PBR Act overrules the provisions for labelling of seed under the Seeds Act.
How do technology use agreements or single-use contracts agreements affect variety naming?
They don’t. While a contract (e.g. technology use agreements or single-use contracts) prevents a farmer from saving seed for replanting, the commercial crop produced from this seed is still considered that variety and can be identified by the appropriate variety name.
|For more information, click here for a Q&A on Use of Variety Testing in Intellectual Property Protection.|
What are the specific regulations on the use of variety names for grain?
There are no specific regulations regarding the use of variety names for grain – there are only regulations for seed.
How are variety names used in the Canadian Grain Quality Assurance System?
The Canadian Grain Commission uses registered varieties to define classes for wheat and malting barley. Classes are groups of varieties with similar characteristics that have a particular end use. For example, some wheat classes are best suited to bread making, while others are better for making cakes and cookies.
A ‘class’ is defined under the Canada Grain Act as ‘…any variety or varieties of grain designated by order of the Commission as a class.’ The Canadian Grain Commission makes those designations based on quality evaluations conducted on varieties during the variety registration process. Varieties that have not been designated are not eligible for that class.
Canadian wheat varieties are grouped into classes by their functional characteristics. Canadian wheat classes are categorized as western Canadian or eastern Canadian by the regions in which the varieties are grown. In eastern Canada, Canada Eastern Feed (CE Feed) is designated to its own class while in western Canada, Canada Western Feed (CW Feed) is the lowest grade by regulation. The Canada Grain Act (Section 28) states where grain of any kind is of a variety produced from seed of a variety that is not registered under the Seeds Act for sale in or importation into Canada, no person shall, except with the permission of the Commission, assign to that grain a grade that is higher than the lowest grade established by regulation for that kind of grain.
The CGC has authority under section 118(h) of the Canada Grain Act to issue an order, which permits assignment of a grade higher than the lowest grade established by regulation for varieties of grain not registered under the Seeds Act. This order is issued annually and as of August 1, 2022, only includes chick peas, corn and food grade soybeans. If requested, the variety name can be added to the grade name on inspection certificates issued by the Canadian Grain Commission based on the shipper’s declaration. Variety references are assessed against the standard of quality in the Canadian Grain Commission’s Official Grain Grading Guide. For example, the standard of quality for the Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat class includes ‘Any variety of the class CWRS designated to such by order of the Commission’. For canola, it is ‘Any variety of canola registered under the Seeds Act’ and for corn it can be ‘Any variety of corn’.
There are three classes of Canadian barley (which are the same for both western and eastern Canada): malting, food and general purpose. Malting barley is the only class that includes only those registered varieties designated by the Canadian Grain Commission. Only a portion of malting barley is selected for malting every year, while the remaining supply is used domestically as livestock feed, exported as feed barley, or selected for food grade. Food barley can be any variety of barley that has been selected by industry for a food market.
To help ensure compliance with the maximum limits for ineligible varieties in the Canadian Grain Commission ’s Official Grain Grading Guide, grain handling companies segregate wheat and barley based on producers’ delivery eligibility declarations. In order to declare the class, producers must know the varieties they have grown and know that they are included on a Canadian Grain Commission variety designation list.
What are the maximum limits for ineligible varieties for wheat and barley?
Maximum limits for ineligible varieties vary between 0.8% to 10% depending on the class and grade.
Ineligible wheat varieties are referred to as ‘Wheats of Other Classes or Varieties’ in the Official Grain Grading Guide, which include unregistered varieties and varieties of other classes.
The maximum limits for other varieties in malting barley shipments are set by contractual arrangements between the buyer and seller, typically around 5%. Malting barley is grown under contract with producers from Certified seed and is handled under identity preserved systems. Industry validates the variety composition of malting barley by testing samples of railcar shipments while they are in transit to either the port for export or to domestic maltsters. The Canadian Grain Commission validates the variety composition of export cargos of malting barley by testing samples taken when the vessels are loading.
How do the maximum limits for ineligible varieties in grain deliveries compare to the varietal purity standards for seed certification?
Canadian Certified cereal seed has among the highest varietal purity requirements in the world (more than 99.9% purity in the field). If very carefully managed, Canadian producers planting farm-saved seed produced from Certified cereal seed can maintain very high levels of varietal purity. For example, farmers growing only varieties of one class of wheat, using their own equipment for planting, harvesting and seed conditioning, could maintain adequate varietal purity for several crop generations to meet the maximum limits for ineligible varieties in the Canadian Grain Commission’s Official Grain Grading Guide.
Grain Variety Testing
Grain companies rely on grain delivery declarations from producers in order to segregate western wheat and barley according to CGC class; farmers rely on the pedigreed seed system to support their grain delivery declarations. Variety testing is used to verify that this system of grain delivery declarations is working.
What type of testing is conducted and for what purpose?
The grain industry uses DNA testing or electrophoresis to verify that the class declarations from producers results in wheat shipments that meet the tolerances for wheats of other classes.
The CGC monitors the variety compositions of exported wheat shipments to ensure that it meets the class and grade tolerances for ineligible varieties in the CGC’s the Official Grain Grading Guide. The CGC also monitors malting barley shipments for varietal purity.
|For more information, click here for the Use of Biochemical and Molecular Techniques (BMTs) in the Canadian Grain Quality Assurance System.|
Are there any sampling method (or sampler qualification) requirements for these tests?
Due to the relatively small sample size required for new genetic tests, having a truly representative sample, from each uniform lot, is critical to obtaining reliable test results. Specific procedures are outlined within the CGC’s documents related to sampling taken at point of sale and for preparing composite samples of product that is to be marketed.
What questions should be considered when comparing different variety testing services to ensure the most appropriate test method and most reliable results?
Some practical questions to consider to ensure you have a sample that represents the lot of grain you are testing include:
- What minimum sample size (weight, number of seeds) is required?
- Does the sample reliably represent all of the lot or bin?
- What is the size (bushels or tonnes) of the lot or bin that this sample represents? How large is too large a lot size to be reliably represented by one sample?
- Is the lot uniform?
- Should a second sample be submitted for testing to obtain reliable test results?
Some practical questions on variety testing to consider when evaluating commercial seed and grain testing labs in Canada, include:
- What type of test is really required? Is it a ‘variety’ test or is it a ‘trait,’ ‘Non-GM,’ or ‘event’ test? If it is a “variety” test:
- Is a varietal “identity” test or a varietal “purity” test required?
- What is the statistical confidence level of the test result? The most important test result information to obtain is a margin of error or confidence estimate, usually 95%. This practical probability estimate of reliability and accuracy of the test results is often related to the type of test, the number of seeds tested and the price of the test.
- How does your testing lab obtain the molecular markers for private/proprietary varieties, especially from outside Canada?
- Does your lab participate in validation studies and proficiency testing for these test methods? Is your lab accredited for these test methods by an outside organization?
Variety testing – testing that verifies the ‘varietal identity’ and/or the ‘varietal purity’ of a seed or grain sample based on the distinguishing characteristics of a variety and the description of the variety. See Q.21 for the difference between varietal identity and varietal purity testing.
Trait testing – verifies or identifies the presence of a specific characteristic (e.g. herbicide tolerance) in a seed or grain sample.
Event testing – verifies or identifies the presence of a gene that has been inserted at a specific location on a chromosome.
Non-GM testing – verifies or identifies the absence of GM traits or events in a seed or grain sample.
The above tests may be qualitative tests with simple presence or absence (Yes or No) test results, or they may be quantitative tests that provide a specific level of impurities or purity.
|For more information on types of tests for crop purity, click here for Variety Testing Definitions.|
Prepared by the Seed Sector Value Chain Roundtable