Researchers deliver ‘hard’ news

EDMONTON — The head of a seed germination lab says last spring’s excess water has created seed characteristics never before seen in this country: pulse seeds impermeable to water.

Lentils and peas from southern Alberta are showing signs of hard seed, said Sarah Foster of 20/20 Seed Labs in Nisku, Alta.

“There is not a lot you can do about it because it is a situation where the seed coat is completely impermeable to water. Water cannot penetrate it so therefore it can’t get the germination to start,” Foster said during FarmTech 2012 held in Edmonton Jan. 24 – 26. “It is something we have never seen before in Canada and traced it back to specific areas.”

Foster said her lab has started to see a trend of hard seed from the Taber, Vauxhall, Vulcan and Enchant areas of southern Alberta, which all had excess water last spring.

While most of the seed lab’s samples are from Alberta, Foster believes there would be similar results for peas and lentils in areas with excess moisture in other parts of the Prairies.

Forty-three percent of the lentil samples examined by 20/20 Seed Labs have one to five percent hard seed.

Eight percent of the pea samples have one to five percent hard seed and two samples had eight to 15 percent.

“In that instance, the nitrogen was really lacking in that particular crop,” Foster said.

Hard seed is a type of dormancy. Some types of seed, such as clover, have a naturally hard seed coat. The survival mechanism requires the rubbing action of soil and water to break the dormancy.

Lower nitrogen levels have been shown to increase dormancy.

Foster said farmers should take soil samples to check nitrogen levels, especially if the new crop is a high nitrogen user.

Duane Ransome, member services co-ordinator with Alberta Pulse Growers, said he has never heard of hard seed in pulse crops, although he has often seen it in perennial forage seed crops.

“It’s hard to believe a crop is deficient in nitrogen when it’s a pulse crop in Alberta,” he said.

Producers generally use a minimum of nitrogen with pulse crops, and the plant produces the rest of its nitrogen requirements out of the air.

Germination could drop to as low as 73 percent when hard seed count is added to the number of possible dead or abnormal seeds often identified in a seed germination test.

“It’s imperative, especially in lentils that have a hard time competing, to get 10, 11, 12 plants per sq. foot,” Ransome said.

“It is a big enough deal to make it a concern of mine.”

Southern Alberta seed grower Tim Willms said he hasn’t seen hard seed in his pulse crops this year.

“My germination rates are one of the highest I’ve seen,” said Willms of Grassy Lake, Alta.

Seed producer Jorg Klempnauer, also of Grassy Lake, said hard seed, which is sometimes called stone peas, shows up occasionally in his pea crops.

Klempnauer estimated that stone peas show up in about one percent of his crop. They are from fields with poor stands and uneven germination that don’t have time to fully develop.

“It is nothing that worries us,” said Klempnauer, who exports peas to Asia for snack food.

Foster said producers may have to bump up their seeding rates slightly to compensate for the lower germination. Crops with high levels of hard seed shouldn’t be used as seed, even with high seeding rates, because the hard seed will just become food for pathogens in the soil.

“I am sure we will be seeing more of it. It is just something people should be aware of. The good news is the levels aren’t that high.”

Mark Olson, a pulse crops research agronomist with Alberta Agriculture, said he hasn’t seen pulse crops with hard seed.

“It’s probably something environmental and something you deal with,” said Olson.

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