Federal agencies want to require seed imports to first be quarantined at centralized exam stations before being delivered to Oregon warehouses, alarming the state’s seed industry.
The new protocol would be a major departure from a long-standing agreement that allows imported seed to instead be quarantined directly within Oregon warehouses.
Oregon’s seed industry is alarmed by the planned change, since requiring seed shipments to first make a pit stop at one of three exam stations near ports along Washington’s Puget Sound is expected to cost an extra $1,800 per container.
“That’s going to have an enormous impact. Someone has to absorb those costs,” said Angie Smith, executive director of the Oregon Seed Association.
Under the current protocol, which was developed in 2004, containers are delivered straight to Oregon seed warehouses for quarantine, where they’re opened by Oregon Department of Agriculture inspectors for testing.
Those samples are then sent to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for analysis while U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials conduct annual inspections at the warehouses to ensure they’re following quarantine procedures.
The new protocol, set to become effective in December 2020, would require the seed imports to be unloaded and quarantined at centralized exam station near the port of entry, then tested and reloaded for shipping to Oregon warehouses.
The federal government wants to make the change because CBP inspectors no longer want to incur the cost of traveling to about 20 Oregon warehouses a year, and also because they want to visually inspect containers as they’re opened, said Mindy Duerst, office manager at the Ioka Farms seed company.
“They have a really big job, and we are a small piece of that,” she said.
Oregon seed companies plan to meet with federal officials in November with the hope of ironing out some of their concerns, which aside from cost include worries about seed storage, handling and testing, she said.
For example, seed samples at the centralized exam stations will likely be drawn at random from containers, rather than from every seed lot within the container as Oregon warehouses currently do, Duerst said.
The reduced testing regimen raises the possibility that seed companies would be paying more for a process that actually leaves them more exposed to threats, she said. “We don’t want more pest risks.”
It will cost money to store imported seeds at the centralized exam stations, which could be prone to backlogs of product waiting to be tested or fumigated, Duerst said. That in turn, could create germination problems for which Oregon seed companies will be held liable by their customers.
“No one up there is going to take responsibility for that,” she said.
The physical process of unloading and reloading tightly packed bags of seed into containers may also be problematic for personnel at the centralized exam stations, Duerst said. “What are you going to do when it doesn’t all fit?”
Imported seed is important for Oregon seed companies that either use it to grow new seed crops here or mix it with Oregon-grown seed for cover crop or forage products, she said.
The industry hopes to work out a compromise with the federal agencies, potentially by taking such steps as paying an additional fee for the inspectors to review Oregon warehouses, she said.
After several meetings with federal representatives, however, Smith of the Oregon Seed Association isn’t optimistic that a deal can be struck.
“The rules are written, and they intend to follow them to the letter,” she said.
Representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service did not return calls for comment.