Local seed companies and growers depend each year on Mississippi State University to provide quality foundation seed of improved varieties.

MSU established Mississippi Foundation Seed Stocks in 1959 as a unit of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. At its peak production in the early 1980s, the unit supplied about 110,000 bushels of foundation seed each year of mostly soybeans, cotton and rice.

Randy Vaughan, seed stocks operations manager, said MSU is active in the production of various foundation seed stocks, which are the first generation of seed produced from seed supplied by federal and state plant breeders.

“Mississippi Foundation Seed Stocks exists as the link between public plant breeders and certified seed producers of Mississippi,” Vaughan said.

Foundation seed is the first of three classes produced within the seed certification system. The second generation is called registered seed, followed by certified seed.

“We continue to serve the certified seed industry by providing high-quality foundation seed,” Vaughan said. “Foundation seed crops available through MSU include soybeans, rice, sweet sorghum, southern peas, clovers, millet, ryegrass, partridge peas, wildlife soybeans and eastern gamma grass.”

Although the total volume of seed has diminished over the years, the number of public varieties available has not. The production methods also have changed from earlier years. Currently, some varieties of foundation seed are grown on MAFES land, while others are produced under contract for MSU by private seed producers.

“Our purpose is to provide Mississippi certified seed producers with consistent access to high-quality seed of newly developed and existing public plant varieties of various species produced in the state,” he said. “This is accomplished through the efficient multiplication of ‘breeder seed’ to become foundation seed while preserving the variety’s known qualities.”

Vaughan said MSU preserves those qualities by following time-proven production methods.

“From clean land and proper rotation to in-field variety purification techniques and the cleaning of equipment — it all has a place,” he said.

The Mississippi Crop Improvement Association, which has regulatory authority over all classes of certified seed grown in the state, oversees the production standards. Before harvest, association representatives inspect crop production activities to ensure that strict standards were maintained.

“The standards are designed to safeguard the seed from threats to quality in the field and from equipment,” he said. “It is a team effort to ensure that all varieties of foundation seed produced in Mississippi conform to the breeders’ description of the variety.”

Vaughan said varieties and quantities are demand driven. Older varieties are replaced with newer varieties as interest changes. An advisory committee made up of registered seed producers and Extension and MAFES personnel provides MSU with guidance concerning the changing needs for available crop varieties.

“Some of the varieties MSU maintains are not available from any other foundation seed agencies,” he said. “Most states have their own foundation seed program, but each agency maintains a unique blend of crop species. If an unexpected or low volume request surfaces from one of our Mississippi seed producers for a variety not currently maintained by MSU, we work to locate seed at a foundation seed agency in another state. Other states make similar requests of us.”

Terry Norwood of Rocky Ford Farms in Union County, Miss., is one of the growers who depend on MSU seed.

“There are not many of us who grow sweet sorghum for syrup, and MSU is one of the few sources in the country for the seed,” he said. “Farmers all across the United States and some in other countries depend on MSU for the seed.”

Norwood said he feels satisfaction in his role as a contract grower of Mississippi foundation seed of sweet sorghum and southern peas.

“There are a lot of considerations in producing foundation seed, but it is rewarding to see a crop from the very beginning until the end,” he said. “Even before the seeds go into the ground, someone from MSU is at the field to inspect and make sure it is appropriate for the intended seed. They even look at what is growing in nearby fields.”

Norwood said MSU sends someone to check the crop for anomalies about every two weeks throughout the growing season, but especially at key growth periods such as flowering and heading.

Louis Weeks of Delta Seed and Services in Arcola, Miss., said he has relied on MSU for rice seed for more than 20 years. He said the biggest change over the decades is in the number of varieties to consider.

“We could get the seeds for some other crops, like soybeans, from private sources, but for rice, we totally depended on universities for foundation seed stocks,” Weeks said. “Whenever possible, I prefer to get my rice seed from MSU. It will be closer to breeder seed than other sources.”

Weeks said growers need to keep up with new varieties that offer better yields. When any university releases a new rice variety, the breeder seed will come to MSU for cultivation.

Weeks said the high quality of the Mississippi Foundation Seed Stock is a result of MSU working closely with the Mississippi Crop Improvement Association. Together they set high standards that pay off for business owners like Weeks.

“MSU doesn’t save me money, it makes me money,” he said. “You can’t take quality seed for granted, and MSU helps by providing the best seed possible. They are providing a tremendous service to the rice industry.”

Weeks said MSU and the Mississippi Crop Improvement Association set higher standards than most states follow for similar foundation seed programs.

“It is a team effort to set rules and regulations for foundation seed,” he said. “All foundation seeds are good, but Mississippi State’s are simply of a higher quality.”