How To: Read a pesticide label

You can't determine seed quality just by looking - you must rely on what the label tells you. However, to get the best value for your seed dollar, you need to understand what labels do - and don't - tell you. Seed suppliers must label all commercial turfgrass seed in conformance with state and federal regulations. These rules vary somewhat at the state level, but all of them require labels to show, at a minimum, the information you see on the sample below.

Turfgrass type. All labels must list the turfgrass type (species). Most labels list a named variety as well, but not all states require this. Obviously, companies marketing proprietary varieties list them by name. However, generic seed also is available. (Be wary of such seed - for all you know, it could be pasture grass.)

Seed lot. This number corresponds to the specific lot from which the seed came. Though not usually important to the end-user, it allows regulators or seed companies to trace the history of the seed should a problem arise.

Seed purity. This is the percent, by weight, of seed of the listed type. A seed mix must list this percent for each component. High-quality seed usually will consist of close to 100 percent of the desired variety(s).

Inert matter. This figure represents the portion of the lot that will not grow. It can include various debris, chaff, seed parts or other material. While not usually a problem in itself, more inert matter means lower purity and, perhaps, lower value.

Other crop. Seed of other plants considered to be crop plants are listed here. Even though considered "crop," these can include perennial grasses that may cause serious infestations in your turfgrass stand. Therefore, seed should contain as little "other crop" as possible.

Weed seed. This indicates the percent, by weight, of weed seed present in the seed lot. It includes all weeds, not just noxious species. Of course, this figure should be low, and high-quality seed will contain few or no weed seeds.

Germination percent. This is the percentage of the grass seed that is alive and will actually grow, as determined by germination tests. The label must show this information for each component of a mix.

Test date. This is the most recent date on which inspectors tested germination. For mixes and blends whose components were tested separately, the label will list the oldest test date.

Certified seed. Another tag (or seal) you may see on seed is a certification label. Seed that state inspectors have found meets certain standards of genetic purity receives certification. This has no bearing on other aspects of seed quality, but certified seed ensures that the stated variety is what you're actually getting. Obviously, this is a crucial matter, so you should always buy certified seed, which will have a separate certification tag. State agencies conduct such programs, so certification criteria vary somewhat among states. However, all ensure that certified seed has met some minimum standard.

Shipper identification. The label always identifies the shipper. However, this sometimes is in the form of a code, perhaps because a resaler wishes to have their own name on the label rather than that of the producer.

Origin. Many states, but not all, require the label to indicate the seed's origin.

Noxious weeds. The label will indicate the presence of noxious weed seeds, if any. Because noxious-weed lists vary by state, labels list any weeds so defined by the state to which the seed is being shipped.

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