New liquid seed treatment uses zinc to boost wheat emergence, yields

Placing nutrients as close to the seed as possible without risking damage has been the Holy Grail of fertility specialists for decades.

Placing some of that nutrient right on the seed surface might be the ultimate solution, especially when dealing with micro-nutrients most essential to germination and early plant development.

Awaken ST, a liquid seed treatment with a high concentration of zinc, has recently received approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and will be available to prairie farmers this spring, said Eric Gregory, product manager for United Agri Products Canada.

“Awaken ST obtained an emergence of 71.3 wheat plants per two sq. feet of row in trials conducted at North Dakota State University by researcher Joel Ransom in 2009,” Gregory said.

“The only two formulas with better emergence contained an experimental Loveland Products component called LI6194, which looks very promising but is still years away from registration.”

The other treatment was an American product for small grains called Dyna Shield, which Gregory said is similar to the Canadian product Raxil.

The untreated check had an emergence of 64 plants per two sq. feet of row.

Come harvest, the straight Awaken ST wheat led the way with 60.8 bushels per acre, followed by the straight LI6194 at 58.8 bu. per acre.

The untreated check yielded at 55.9 bu. per acre.

In addition to the documented yield, Gregory said the visual difference in the heads indicates that the Awaken ST plants are healthier than non-treated plants.

“There was one trial in North Dakota where Awaken ST without the LI6194 had a nine bu. advantage over other treatments, but that’s not normal. That one was a real sweetheart trial.”

Trials in the prairie provinces in the past four years show that Awaken ST on wheat gives a four to five percent yield increase.

Gregory said producers realize plants that get an early start and experience good health in the early stages stand a better chance of producing more grain, compared to plants that struggle in the early stages.

“Awaken ST starts to work the same day the treated seed goes into the ground. Early root development is better and there’s greater root biomass,” he said.

“We can’t bring dead seed back to life, but we can increase the number of plants that successfully germinate and grow to maturity. And it continues working through the four to five leaf stage.”

Zinc constitutes five percent of the Awaken ST formula, along with lesser traces of copper, boron, manganese, iron and molybdenum.

These are all essential for photosynthesis. If any are in short supply, the rate of photosynthesis is curtailed.

“Zinc is the main component. It’s the precursor to auxins. Auxin is the Greek word for growth.”

Auxins promote cell elongation and cell division, which is what makes up growth. The faster it happens, the faster the plant grows.

Gregory said auxins promote growth of the root hairs in the early stages, which is the key to nutrient uptake from the soil. If zinc on the seed surface promotes auxins, which creates more root hairs, then the plant gets a quicker start in life.

Research at the University of Wales measured auxins in corn plants, comparing untreated plants to plants with a 0.1 percent zinc concentrate and plants with an agricultural crop additive (ACA).

Awaken ST is classified as an ACA, meaning it is a non-conventional fertilizer usually comprising a blend of elements.

The metric unit of measurement for auxins is the picogram (pg), which is one trillionth of a gram. They’re small and hard to measure.

Untreated corn tissue had 264 pg of auxins, while plants with a 0.1 percent treatment had 430 pg of auxins. Corn treated with the ACA Awaken ST containing zinc ammonium acetate had 620 pg of auxins.

Benefits of Ammonium acetate on soil health

Auxins are plant hormones that cause cell elongation in roots and stems.

Zinc can boost auxin production and cell division, leading to increased lateral root growth.

The chart shows the effects on auxin concentrations with various zinc treatments. Note that the agricultural crop additive (ACA) treatment shows a 44 percent increase in auxin concentrations compared to results using zinc sulfate, acting as an extraction agent to release nutrients in the soil.

Auxin concentrations (picograms*):

  • Untreated plants 264
  • Treated with 1% ZnSO4 (zinc sulfate) 430
  • Treated with 1% ACA(zinc ammonium acetate) 620

* a picogram is one trillionth of a gram

“Zinc deals with auxins and root hair development to enhance nutrient uptake, but ammonium acetate plays a totally different role,” he said.

“Ammonium acetate is an extraction agent. It functions in the soil, not in the plant. We call it nature’s mining agent. We put it on the seed and it immediately affects the soil surrounding the seed. It helps the soil release nutrients so the roots can take them in.”

Gregory said the basic Awaken ST formula has been around for decades, but not in Canada.

A smaller company that UAP bought in the early 1980s had already developed and patented the zinc ammonium acetate formula.

“They had been adding it to their anhydrous ammonia,” he said.

“They also had it going in the furrows with the startup fertilizer. Through the 1980s and ’90s, UAP researchers realized the closer they put zinc ammonium acetate to the seed, the better response they got. So about nine years ago, Loveland Products started working on a seed-applied formula, which is now the Awaken ST we have approved for Canada.”

Gregory said Loveland started the registration process four years ago, with the mandatory two years of efficacy field test data followed by the normal two years of review for CFIA approval. Awaken ST is the first liquid ACA to be registered in Canada, he added.

“This is a true solution, not a suspension product, so it’s very stable,” he said.

“To date, it’s blended well with every liquid product we’ve tried. We’re right now putting the final touches on blend recommendations, but we know for sure you cannot mix it with rhizobia inoculants. It kills rhizobia.”

Gregory said Awaken ST is part of a trend toward seed-applied nutrients and away from bulk fertilizer

“I see that as a definite trend,” he said.

“There are a lot of new and different technologies coming down the pipeline right now relating to micro-nutrients. But as for the macro-nutrients NPK, where we need hundreds of pounds per acre, I think they’ll always be bulk applied.”

Gregory said UAP will have enough Awaken ST so that most interested retailers will get a chance to bring product into their area.

The recommended rate for the liquid is 260 to 390 millilitres per 100 kilograms of wheat seed, which works out to $2.50 to $3.75 per bushel of seed.

It will cost $5 to $7.50 per acre when seeding at the high rate of two bu. per acre.

For more information, contact Gregory at 204-888-1293 or visit

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