History of the OSU Seed Lab

It is hard to know what might have been in the mind and heart of Professor George Hyslop and others, when he started the Oregon State University Seed Laboratory in 1909 in a small room in the Agronomy wing of what was to become the Agriculture Hall. He started with a crank operated divider, a blower with airflow regulated by a screw valve and a few water-cooled germinators. Now, the OSU Seed Laboratory provides services to the seed industry in the US and around the world and is accredited by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA).

purity-board ergovision
Purity testing with the traditional purity board in 1960. Purity testing with the Ergonomic Purity Station in 2009.

This was a time when there were very few seed laboratories in the nation and the Oregon Seed Industry was still in its infancy. When people talked about seeds in those days they were probably talking about wheat and potato seeds. Looking ahead to the next 100 years from that point in time, it would have been impossible to imagine the breadth, depth, and dynamism of the seed industry in Oregon and the nation. But they surely had a vision.

A hundred years later, Oregon is the leading grass seed supplier in the world and is known as the “grass seed capital of the world.” It ships seed across the country, Europe, Asia, and South America. Needless to say the OSU Seed Lab was not to watch the events from the fences; rather it worked shoulder to shoulder with its seed communities both in good and in difficult times. It made every possible effort to develop useful methods, organize educational services, and provide testing services to a dynamically growing agricultural community. After Seed Certification was established in 1918 and fully vested in 1937, the seed lab provided a testing service that is critical for certification tagging. Through the efforts of the Oregon Seed Growers League, the OSU Seed Lab moved to the Quonset Huts (brought in from what then was the Army military base ‘Camp Adair’) in 1945. In 1989, the seed lab moved again to its current modern building located on Campus Way. These changes made it possible to respond to the growing demand for testing and to accommodate newer and more modern equipment for testing.

quonset-hut seed-lab-today
The Quonset Hut was the lab's home for many years. Our current facility on Campus Way.

There are many contrasts between seed testing in 1909 and 2009. The laboratory started by providing purity and germination tests to its customers. Today, there are many more tests in various areas of seed quality to serve the needs of today's dynamic seed industry. In the purity area, the OSU Seed Lab offers regular purity testing for a wide range of crops and native species as well as US, Australian and Canadian crop and weed exams; noxious weed exams; pest and disease, soil, undesirable grass seed, and sod quality exams. The seed lab also offers testing to detect Orobanche species in red clover, and noxious weeds in compost, birdseed, and animal feed. Other tests include germination, viability by tetrazolium, fluorescence, grow-outs, seed moisture content, seed weight, vigor tests, ploidy by cytometry, immunoblot assay to detect endophyte in seeds, Clearfield® bioassay, varietal identification, and x-ray tests. In addition, special seed testing studies, research, and consultation are available based on customer needs.

old-germination ryegrass-germinator
 Germination facilities in 1960. Climate controlled chambers in 2009.

Some of the highlights and anecdotes from the OSU Seed Lab’s history

Highly committed people led this lab to become one of the leading labs in the nation. They were Norma Waddle (1910-17), Grace M. Cole (1917-19), Agnes Ryder (1919-22), Bertha C. Hite (1922-29), Leatha D. Bunting (1929-30), Grace Cole Fleischman (1930-38), Louisa Kanipe Jensen (1938-68), Ed Hardin (1968-80), Rodger Danielson (1980-96) and Adriel Garay (1997 to present).

These contributions would not have been possible without the support from a broad community. These include seed growers, seed cleaners, seed dealers that trust this lab to test their samples; the agricultural community and other seed users who used our test reports to determine the quality of seed they were planting; the seed laboratory communities who worked with us shoulder to shoulder; the scientists and professionals who challenged and stimulated new concepts and methods. Finally, thanks to all the analysts who provide tender loving care and dedicated attention to each and every sample tested.

I am humbled and honored to be the one to bring this lab to its 100 years.

Adriel Garay, Ph.D., Lab Manager