Give seed the treatment it deserves

Small and diseased seed and tough conditions can compromise results in many crops.

Proper seed treatment can mitigate these issues, say agrologists.

This spring has the potential to be as normal as many prairie producers have seen in several years. Snow has left the fields and frost is mainly out of the ground, which means growers are preparing to head for the fields. In some cases, they’re already there.

However, it is still early, and soil temperatures aren’t likely warm enough yet to allow seeds to be at their best once germinations starts.

Farm saved seed and even some commercial product are having quality problems this year because of a touch of frost and damp conditions when harvest finally got started last fall.

Seed treatments have long been a part of farm production but have become a greater part of popular discussion than in the past because of recent questions about neonicotinoid insecticides on seed and their effects on bee health.

Disease is the first thing many farmers think of when it comes to farm applied seed treatment.

Fungicide treatments provide protection from seedling blights and rots by preventing fungal pathogens from developing around or inside the seed.

They improve the odds that a plant will make it out of the ground in one piece and rapidly reach the stage where it can compete for resources and face other pathogens.

Earlier starts can result in plant staging that can better survive warmer-season disease pressure, say some agrologists.

Nic Petruic of Bayer CropScience said producers can improve their odds of successful seed treatment by ensuring they apply the products as directed by manufacturer.

“Is it pink enough? The science behind application is better than that,” he said. “But on the farm, well, measuring application can be a challenge, depending on what tools you are using.”

Mitchell Japp of Saskatchewan Agriculture said treatments can be particularly beneficial when planting into cold soil, when seeds will be slow to develop.

Provincial research has found that they improve spring wheat and durum yields when seeding conditions or seed are less than ideal.

Brian Beres of Agriculture Canada’s research center in Lethbridge has found that seed treatments improved winter wheat yields and evened out the crop when conditions for disease or other agronomic factors were worse or where seed size was smaller than average.

Agronomist Bryan Nybo said research at the Wheatland Conservation District in Swift Current, Sask., has found that the same results could be expected in spring cereals, especially in durum.

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Yield benefits diminished as seed size and seeding rate grew.

Researchers suggest that seed treatments can even out the playing field with larger seed and higher rates when it comes to bin-run seed or seed that is smaller than average.

Response is limited in spring wheat under the best conditions, while durum responses remain strong until seed size is at its largest.

Petruic said producers can take steps to ensure that they receive proper coverage when applying seed treatments on the farm.

“Some products are systemic and some are contact only,” he said.

“Systemic products provide protection from within the plant. Others are a shield.”

Japp said seed treatments are not a cure for dead, damaged or pathogen infested seed.

True loose smut appears in the embryo, and systemic treatment is used.

At up to three percent fusarium gramimearum, seed treatment can be aplied.

Seed with up to five percent can be planted for other fusarium species, but seed treatment is strongly advised if present in more than five percent of the lot.

Common bunt or stinking smut can be countered with seed treatments.

Petruic said application rates need to carefully managed.

“Using the products properly helps to ensure that growers maximize the effects of their investments in seed treatment,” he said.

“Some products require mixing ahead of application. If so, producers should ensure they have done this properly, getting those active ingredients in solution evenly.… Farmers are under a lot of pressure at this time of year, but if you compromise your seed, pushing the grain through faster through your treating process will (negate) other things you are doing right.”

He said the capacity of the treating system needs to be right for the farm.

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“It depends on how much land and when you will be applying the treatment.”

Seed testing is the best way to determine the level of infection when planting farm saved seed or seed from an unknown source.

Seed grower Wayne Amos of Oxbow, Sask., said there is a lot seed in prairie labs because of tough harvest conditions.

“Germination and vigour are suspect this season,” he said.

Petruic said growers should make sure they are choosing products that are effective for the diseases they are encountering, such as fusarium in wheat.

Chris Larsen from AGI, which makes the Storm seed treater, said it is critical to properly calibrate equipment.

“You can make the seed red or blue, but is it enough, or too much? It costs money to over-apply, and the rates are developed and approved based on being accurate,” he said.

Petruic said growers should also think about secondary mixing.

“If it is in an auger, keep it full to just about plugging. Making as much seed to seed contact as possible. We have tested and tested this, and it creates the most uniform coverage.”

Larsen said the rate will likely have changed between the time the treater was calibrated first thing in the morning at 5 C and at 3 p.m. when the temperature has risen to 20 C.

Petruic said growers should check the coverage to ensure it is full and there are no gaps, whether they are treating using a stop watch, graduated measures and bushel tubs or a treating system that takes everything into account.

“It doesn’t take much to compromise your seed treatment, and then your investment is in question. It costs a lot to go the field,” he said.

“Not every farm will have a Storm (treater), but many farms are looking at incorporating new seed treatment tools into their operations, especially where in-season capacity is an issue,” he said.

Contact michael.raine@producer.com

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