Selling seed can seem like a minefield of legislation, but this is not impenetrable. The first thing we did at the Wales Seed Hub was register as a seed marketer with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)*. While this might sound intimidating, in reality it involves filling out an application form and having a telephone conversation. APHA’s main concern was that we understood how to properly package, label and keep records for our crops. Our application took several months to process (in a pandemic time) and we were duly sent our seed marketers licence number and certificate.
We have learnt the importance of keeping records every step of the way. Using a shared spreadsheet to record the name, species, location, sowing date and harvest date of each crop, we have quickly added a multitude of other columns. We record the estimated quantities of each seed, the variety description, the number of packets held at our central seed hub store and the number of packets held on each member’s farm.
Batch numbers are even more important. Every batch of a crop treated differently (eg, harvested at a different time or stored in a different location) must be kept separately and allocated a different batch number. This allows us to distinguish between the conditions of one batch or another, and easily recall any seed which has a problem such as low germination.
In addition to our all important spreadsheet, each crop has a record sheet filled out by the grower. These record sheets give us notes for growth, any pests or diseases, harvesting conditions and processing treatments. We have learnt the importance of photographs, taking pictures at every step of a seed’s journey, both for the benefit of our records and our social media accounts!
We have found collective responsibility and transparency to have been sufficiently fostered through the use of shared documents. We frequently return to these documents during our monthly meetings and use our records as the basis for all the information we make public on our website and shop listings. These records are also readily available to our APHA seed inspector should they want to see them.
Plant passports are an additional consideration, with certain crops requiring a plant passport for them to be sold within the UK. Our discovery that French Beans were included in the crops requiring a passport lead us to apply for a licence to issue plant passports with APHA very early on in our journey. Despite the officious name, a plant passport is basically an additional label to be added to a seed packet. First we applied to issue plant passports via an application form, then we bought a customisable ink stamp to stamp the relevant packets with the extra required information. Plant passports should include botanical name, traceability codes and country of origin. The passports purpose is to ensure traceability in the supply chain if any plant health issues arise.
Finally, plant varieties are also bound by legislation. The Plant Varieties Act 1997 states that any variety sold must be listed on a national list. The restrictions around getting varieties onto this list are well documented, with each listed variety needing to be distinct, uniform and stable (which is often difficult for genetically diverse heritage and landrace crops). But all is not lost. For seed sellers working with small packets, there is an option to have a variety listed as an amateur variety. Unlike the standard national list, the amateur variety listing costs less and does not require the same level of uniformity. We chose to list the Kew Blue French bean as an amateur variety. This cost us £100 and required us to fill out a variety descriptor with information such as colour of flowers and size of pods. This made our variety legal to sell.
It would be pertinent to point out that not all seed companies list all their varieties, amateur or otherwise. While it is technically illegal to sell unlisted varieties, unlisted varieties are all over UK seed catalogues. While APHA cannot state that the legislation should be ignored, they also do not actively enforce the rules around the variety listings. Each seed seller must make an individual choice about registering varieties they sell.
Your APHA seed inspector can be a useful person to ask questions of to ensure you are recording everything correctly.
The APHA website contains detailed information on legislation and registration requirements.
* APHA is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Welsh Government, and The Scottish Government. APHA are therefore the agency to contact for seed regulation in Wales, Scotland and England when registering as a seed merchant.
This article is part of a full guide based off lessons learned from the Wales Seed Hub. For Week 1 – Finding your Varieties, click here. The complete guide is available in our Resources section, and will be updated regularly as the knowledge and experience of the Hub grows. This is just one example of setting up a seed cooperative, but we hope that by detailing the journey of the Wales Seed Hub we can help other groups looking to follow a similar path in the future. You can learn more about the Wales Seed Hub here and support them by buying their seeds here.’