Understanding Seed Waivers and Seed Born Diseases

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

A number of vegetable diseases can be transmitted through infected seed. For this reason, seed companies have developed quality assurance programs based on testing a certain amount of seeds in each seed lot for specific diseases. This most often involves the seed company growing out plants from these test lots and having trained individuals inspect the plants for signs of the disease. If there are suspicious plants, they are then further tested in the laboratory to confirm the disease. Sometimes seeds are tested directly for the specific disease organism (bacteria, virus, fungus). Only seed lots that have no disease detected are sold. For watermelon and cantaloupes, seed lots are tested for bacterial fruit blotch and often for gummy stem blight.

Because of past liability issues, growers are required to sign waiver forms to purchase watermelon and cantaloupe seeds from most companies. While this is often thought by growers to be a routine annoyance to purchase seeds, it is important to read the waiver forms and understand their implications.

These waivers commonly spell out what diseases the company tests for. The waiver will often have information on the testing process for these diseases. There will also be information about the diseases that the grower should know and often there will be detailed descriptions of how the disease develops and how to identify the disease.

In all waivers, there will be an important statement emphasizing that that the grower accepts the risks associated with those diseases.

The waiver may also include information on risk of nonperformance, assumption of risk, disclaimers or limitation of warranties, limits of liability, limits on damages, how to file a claim, statute of limitations on claims, arbitration of seed disputes (required by some states), expected remedies, limit on sales or transfers of seed, and attorney’s fees.

Once a seed waiver is signed then the seed company is protected from liability and this will reduce the ability of a grower to receive compensation if a seed borne disease does appear.

All growers are encouraged to understand what seed borne diseases are common with the vegetable crops that they grow, whether or not seed is treated or tested to reduce the chance of disease occurring, how to identify specific seed borne diseases, and how to manage seed borne diseases if they do occur (in greenhouse transplants or field plantings).

Growers should also maintain close relationships with seed suppliers and contact them immediately if a seed borne disease is suspected.

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