VIDEO: Difficult harvest may affect seed supplies

Saskatchewan’s seed growers planted a big pedigreed seed crop last year, but that doesn’t mean there will be ample supplies of seed for all crop types and varieties.

The province’s seed producers dedicated 333,000 acres to pedigreed seed production last year but challenging harvest conditions last fall will likely keep a significant amount of seed out of the market.

Diseases affecting seed quality were widespread last year, especially in crops that were exposed to repeated rain in the fall.

“It’s really a tale of two stories this year,” said Bruce Carriere, president of Discovery Seed Labs in Saskatoon.

“If the seed came off prior to the rains, it’s probably very good, and if you took it off after one rain, it’s probably going to be OK. But if it sat out there for weeks, chances are it’s not going to make seed.”

Carriere said high quality supplies wlll be hard to come by for some crop types, most notably malting barley.

“We’re gong to have an issue, I think, with how much good seed is available,” he said.

“A good example is malting barley. That one’s going to be hard to find really good seed this year.”

Pedigreed supplies of field peas and lentils could also be hard to find because of strong demand from commercial growers, who are expected to increase acres this year.

Harvest rain that hit most of the province last fall affected many of the seed samples that have been submitted to labs for quality testing.

In Carriere’s lab, many samples had unusually high total fusarium numbers. Total fusarium measures species of fusarium other than Fusarium graminearum, including species that are usually associated with seedling blights and root rots.

“Those numbers have gone through the roof, and that’s a function of a less-than-perfect harvest,” Carriere said. “In a normal year, where we are dry throughout the harvest period, it’s never much of an issue, but this year, we’ve got some crop districts that are averaging nearly 20 percent total fusarium, and the ranges go from one percent all the way up to 79 percent.”

Meanwhile, tests that quantify Fusarium graminearum showed lower infection levels than previous years.

“The Fusarium graminearum issue this year is way less than it was last year, so it’s much, much better,” he said. “But there are still some seed lots that were affected.”

Fusarium graminearum is now evident in samples from every crop district in the province, and ranges are high in some areas.

Average F. graminearum values were below five percent in some districts, but readings taken from all samples in the district ranged from zero percent to nearly 50 percent.

“A lot of that has to with when the rains came … in the late summer,” Carriere said.

“There were a lot of cereal crops last year where the main stems had already flowered and then they got rain and the plants started to stool like a son of a gun. That’s when they got the disease on them.”

“It will be important this year more than most for seed growers and commercial grain growers to have a clear understanding of the quality issues that may exist.

As usual, growers buying seed should request information about the seed lot’s germination and vigour.

It may also be helpful to ask about harvest dates, Fusarium graminearum levels and results from fungal screens.

Sarah Foster, president of 20/20 Seed Labs, said the migration of Fusarium graminearum to new crop districts in Alberta appears to have slowed last year.

Extremely dry conditions across many of Alberta’s dryland production areas seems to have kept the disease in check, at least for now.

“Fusarium graminearum needs moisture and humidity, and it definitely needs those warmer temperatures at night,” Foster said.

“So we have seen less movement and fewer areas that are being affected, but in the areas that were affected in 2015 and have been typically for the last 10 years, those infection levels were actually higher.”

Foster said growers who submit seed samples should be aware of the differences between plate tests for fusarium and DNA tests.

DNA tests are generally more sensitive and can detect surface infections. Surface infection may not significantly affect seed quality but can serve as an early warning that Fusarium graminearum is in the area and that extra care should be taken with seed treatments, crop rotations and management of ditches and isolation areas.

Carriere and Foster both stressed the value of understanding seed vigour and using thousand kernel weights to determine optimal seeding rates.

Carriere said two seedlots that have similar germination and similar seed vigour scores can have significantly different per acre seed costs — potentially as much as $5 per acre —depending on the crop type and the seed lot’s thousand kernel weight number.

“The whole things of planting five pounds per acre is gone or at least it’s on its way out,” added Foster. “More people are looking at using 1,000 kernel weights so they can be more precise in their seeding rates, but when they request a 1,000 kernel weight (number), they should also be requesting a vigour test along with a germination.”

Canada’s pedigreed seed acreage was up sharply in 2015, according to figures compiled by the Canadian Seed Growers Association.

Certified seed growers dedicated nearly 1.34 million acres to pedigreed seed production last year, up from 1.17 million acres in 2014.

Saskatchewan’s acreage was up 57,000 acres to 333,000.

More details on pedigreed seed acreage can be viewed in the 2016 Saskatchewan Seed Guide. The guide was to be released Jan. 13 at the seed growers association’s annual general meeting in Saskatoon, which is part of Crop Production Week.

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