Customized Testing

Beyond the scope of standard testing, we offer our customers a broad range of uniquely valuable services that can be designed to meet the needs of many applications. In addition to agricultural seeds, we can test soil, yard debris compost, animal feed, bird seeds, or any other non-toxic material that requires precise differentiation under high output microscopic stations. We have a wide range of highly precise equipment.

Customized research projects: We offer services to design and conduct species research studies or testing needs as requested by customers. Examples are: investigate the effect of various seed coating materials on seed performance, study the effect of heat treatments on seed viability and vigor, determine the ploidy level of different species, and study the effect of storage condition on seed quality.

When your research needs extend beyond the capabilities of the seed lab, we are happy to refer you to other OSU campus labs, including the Crop and Soil Science Department Central Analytical Lab, Botany and Plant Pathology Plant Clinic, and the College of Veterinary Medicine's Endophyte Service Lab.

Applications of testing include:

Climate change research. Scientists are interested in determining the change of plant species through time due to climate change. For example, seed was searched in soil samples collected from a large number of sites from the Mojavi Desert.

Revegetation and reclamation. These often use high-value seed mixes that are required to have zero weed contamination.

Environmental impact research. Soil samples yield information about what species have grown in the past, revealing potential.

Construction and road-building. Soil that is moved is often required to be tested to prevent the spread of noxious or invasive weeds.

Archaeological and anthropological reseach. The identity of seeds used by early peoples helps understand the development of agriculture and domesticated crops.

Greens management and specialized turf care. Verifying the composition of high-value seed mixes, doing very large super-searches to detect extremely low levels of weeds. Useful for hydroseeding and pelleting applications, we can examine products to determine if methods cause damage to seeds.

Organic and bio-dynamic agriculture and gardening. Testing compost and compost mixes both for viable weed and other seeds and for toxicity.

Soils and soil-less mixture development. Testing soils and mixes for toxicity and performance compared to standard germination methods.

Super Searches

Searches in very large seed samples

Responding to high-end seed users, some customers require a very high level of certainty of the absence of specific contaminants. Absence in a very large sample increases the level of confidence in the information. The search can be conducted for any specific contaminant in any seed sample, and this service has value for seed growers, cleaners, dealers, and buyers.

Examples of recent tests include:

As long as the material particles being examined are small and requiring microscopes for correct differentiation, and as long as the analyst can be trained to recognize them correctly, other separations (pollen, insects, minerals or chips) may be possible. Contact us to find out if we can help you.

Testing fees based on hourly charges. 

Micro-cleaning of Lots

Many individuals and companies (seed collectors, breeders, foundation seed managers) work with small quantities of very high value seeds. Such seeds may be naturally or accidentally contaminated with crops or weed seeds that are similar to the crop of interest. The contaminants cannot be separated with any machine, yet, they need a pure and clean original seeds as the basis of expensive commercial seed increase programs. The lab uses constant flow inspection stations and analytic skills to identify and separate any/all undesirable contaminants. This service delivers information plus a clean (selected) product to the customer. Depending on the amount of seed that needs to be cleaned and the difficult nature of the contaminant, this selection may require extensive time, in which case it can be scheduled for the weeks/months when the demand for standard testing is low.

Examples of recent tests include:

Testing fees based on hourly charges. 

Soil Seed-Bank


Farmers, agronomists, weed and soil scientists, conservation programs, and others often want to know what kind of seeds may be present in a particular soil to prevent potential problems in today's quality-conscious markets. The soil seed-bank test can effectively identify noxious weed seed or any other seeds in a soil sample.

The soil seed-bank test was developed by the OSU Seed Laboratory. Samples are washed to remove fine clay particles, dried, then screened to separate by particle size. Seeds as small as Juncus (rush) can be retained. All particles are visually inspected by trained analysts using the high-quality microscopic Ergovision system. Seeds are removed and identified. The seeds may then be returned to the customer for follow-up studies or tested in the lab for viability.

Examples of recent tests:

Instructions for submitting samples for testing

Test Information

Blend and Mixture Verification

Some customers mix or blend many species and want to know if the product has the specified percentages of components or if a certain component has acceptable viability. Useful for producers and users of blends and mixtures.

Examples of recent tests include:

Testing fees are based on hourly charges. 

Animal Feed

feed-pelletsSome states require proof that noxious weeds are not being disseminated in animal feed. This service is of value for producers and users of feed, pellets and certified hay.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Examples of recent tests:

Testing fees are based on hourly charges. 


birdseedSome researchers and regulators are concerned that noxious weeds may be disseminated through birdseed. This service is of value for producers, regulators and users of birdseed. The identity of seeds in birdseed mixes can be determined, and some or all tested for viability.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Examples of recent tests:

Testing fee is based on an hourly charge. Contact the lab for specific prices. 

Compost and Soil Mix Testing

Compost is widely used in both industrial and home gardening. Unless it decomposes properly and completely, it can be a source of weeds and other undesirable plants, and, if toxic, can do more harm than good. We can test your compost to determine if it contains undesirable components and if it produces symptoms of toxicity in seedlings.

Soil and soil-less mixes can also be tested. In addition to seed searches, we can test the soil for germination potential.

Tests we have done include:

To be tested, the compost must be completely decomposed and of yard or vegetable origin only, no animal products or animal waste material. It must not have poison oak in it, and if it contains plant material that was exposed to potentially harmful chemicals (i.e. herbicides and pesticides), the chemicals must be identified so the analysts can take proper precautions.

Custom Digital Imaging

The need for seed images 

figure-1There are many reasons why people need images of specific seeds, samples or seed collections. For example, after the seed lab tests a sample, a test report is provided, but the client needs to see what the contaminant seed looks like. Words and numbers don’t help much. As people plan their cleaning process or re-clean the lot, an image of what they need to separate can be critical. This is especially important in small-seeded crops, such as grasses and clovers, and less familiar crops such as native species, where seeing unique and fine features is necessary to make decisions. 

In the past, when the lab reported undesirable seeds, some customers called us and asked what the seed looked like. We learned that you could spend hours on the phone trying to describe the seed and still not communicate its key features. Sometimes the lab would ask the caller to come by in person to see the specific seeds found in their sample, only to realize that the customer was five hundred miles away! We realized it was time to help our customers in a new way by providing an image conveying these key features.

The value of situation-specific images

To be of value, the image has to represent the seeds that are present in the sample that is being examined. While the seed images in books or the specimens found in seed collections are very useful for seed identification, they do not represent the exact and specific conditions and features of the seeds found in samples. Seeds are biological products which can vary from sample to sample for many reasons, which is why the image has to represent the individual sample.

Since its initial experimental use, we have made many images for a range of clients. Some may be planning their cleaning process, others may be trying to figure out how to re-clean and still others may simply want to know what is present in a specific handful or seed collection. The variation from image to image is a testimony to the specificity of each situation.

Example: Single contaminants that vary from the crop seeds

Figures 2 and 3 show a single kind of contaminant with clear physical differences between the crop seed and the undesirable seed. Each image includes a scale to interpret size, shape and other differences. Note that there are several seeds of the crop species to illustrate the range of seed sizes. These features can help the user to decide if, or how, these seeds can be separated.


Figure 2.  Wild carrot seeds found in a red fescue sample.

The contaminant seems very different in surface texture and length but has similar width to the crop seeds.


Figure 3.  Rough hawkbit found in a creeping bentgrass sample.

The great difference in length between the two species means that this separation should be quite easy and result in very little loss of bentgrass seed.

Example: Contaminant is similar in size and shape to the crop seeds

Figure 4 illustrates a situation where there is very little difference between the crop seed and the undesirable material, and mechanical separation is likely impossible. By seeing this image a grower may realize the value of contaminant prevention in the field.


Figure 4. Downy brome found in a sample of tall fescue.

It is likely that even with the best equipment these seeds cannot be separated.

Example: Multiple contaminants

Figure 5 illustrates a variety of cleaning challenges. An image like this one can help a cleaner and grower to communicate and plan preventive and corrective measures. Good communication and planning of specific actions simply based on words would be difficult. An image like this solves that problem.


Figure 5.  Multiple contaminants found in a white clover sample.

Although it may be possible, based on size and shape, to clean out the red clover and buckhorn plantain, it will be almost impossible to clean out the sheep sorrel and alsike clover.

Example: Sample diversity

Figure 6 illustrates a different situation where the customer may want to see all the seeds present in the sample, or perhaps wants to show a diversity of seed kinds present in a collection, a natural stand, or re-vegetation project.


Figure 6.Variety of crops and weeds present in a Shasta daisy sample.

Ordering seed images

The OSU Seed Lab creates custom digital images according to each customer’s specific request. Often, customers request to see specific contaminants alongside the crop. As illustrated by the examples, many types of images are possible. Turnaround time is typically 1-2 business days, and images are delivered by email or fax. Emailed images are sent in the common JPEG format and sized to view on a monitor or print as a full-size page.

The fee is based on the hourly charge, with a $31.00 minimum per image. Most one- and two-species images can be done without additional charges. Please use the Additional Tests Order form to request this service, specify Digital Image as the test and indicate in the comments what you want in the image (typically, the contaminant and the crop are both included for comparison). 

Click here for a printable PDF version of this information.

Lab Capabilities


The OSU Seed Laboratory is housed in a building designed to function specifically as a seed testing laboratory. The building covers an area of 6,000 sq ft (540 m2), houses offices, testing areas, growth chambers, equipment, file sample storage, and a mezzanine used for training and workshops. The laboratory has an adjacent 800 sq ft greenhouse for conducting grow-out tests for various crops, VFL determinations, and research projects. Read more about our facility here.


Reference Seed Collection

The laboratory has a large reference seed collection containing a broad range of seed specimens. The collection is particularly rich in grasses and Pacific Northwest native species. The lab uses the expertise available in the Botany Department for identification of unusual plant species.


The OSU Seed Laboratory staff includes approximately 25 qualified full-time analysts and supervisors with Doctor, Master, or Bachelor of Science degrees, CSAs, and long-term experience in seed testing. In addition, the laboratory hires several seasonal staff as well as Oregon State University students during the busy testing season to help in planting and general laboratory work that do not need long-term experience or extensive training.

Information Technology

The OSU Seed Laboratory has an advanced information system for speeding the flow of information to and from customers. This includes the ability for customers to enter sample information and test requests online, access test results online, and on-site printing of reports. The database also gives us the ability to pull up records very quickly, which allows rapid gathering of data for statistical analysis, sample tracking, and other uses.