Performing a germination test on a seed lot is relatively common prior to seeding season, and vigour tests are gaining popularity. But what about a nutrition test for seed? Seed quality sets up a crop for the entire season; using seed deficient in one or several nutrients could lead to poor emergence and vigour.
“With the cost today of putting a crop in the ground and the cost of land and inputs and fuel, if we think about all of that and then we don’t pay attention to the initial seed, we are beaten before we get started,” says Greg Patterson of A &L Laboratories. Starting the year without knowing the nutritional profile of a seed lot is like starting the season off blindfolded.
“Right now seeds are tested for germination and vigour, but not too many people are testing their seed for nutrient concentration,” says Craig Davidson of agricultural sales and marketing company Taurus Technology Inc. “Vigour may correlate back to the level of phosphorous, potassium, zinc or manganese present in the seed and we know those levels of nutrients change from seed lot to seed lot.”
FINE-TUNING THE SYSTEM
A few years back, few farmers were intimately acquainted with what was in their soil, let alone the seed it produced. A greater respect for and knowledge of what is in the soil and what a crop demands has been made easier, in some ways, with technology like GPS referencing of soil testing. The introduction of precision farming and now variable rate application technology has further advanced fertilizer management.
Some in the industry are now looking at ways to help farmers interpret the nutritional data contained in their seed and use it to further fine-tune their pre-seed and in-crop fertility programs. “It’s about looking at the foundation, the mother seed and the nutrients it contains and how much influence those nutrients will have on getting the seed up and out of the ground and producing a crop,” says Patterson.
Testing the nutritional content of seed involves a simple tissue test that can be performed in 24 hours and can easily be done at the same time farmers get their selected seed analyzed for germination and vigour, says Patterson.
NUTRIENT ROLE IN GROWTH
But the nutritional seed test is only one piece of the puzzle. Farmers will also need to know what the results mean in terms of potential yield performance. That’s the part that is still being worked on through on-going laboratory work and in-field testing. It’s a process that takes time but should eventually produce the same kind of information for cereal producers, about the correlation between seed nutrients and end performance, that has already been done to a large extent in the vegetable industry. The role of nutrients, especially micronutrients like zinc and manganese, is well known to have beneficial effects on vigour and yields, as well as playing a role in prolonging the shelf life of seed in many vegetables.
But the actual numbers representing a baseline for the various nutrient components in grains, pulses and oilseeds are still being compiled. When available, it should be another good tool for farmers to use, says Patterson. “What we are trying to come up with is the information so that someone growing his own seed can, based on his own fertility programs and what he knows of his field, select seed lots from the best parts of his farm and be able to verify that by analyzing the seed when it’s mature and see if it contains the nutrient balance he is looking for,” he says.
Omex Agriculture Inc. is currently conducting some of the analytical work, together with A &L Laboratories, to develop a protocol or baseline for the nutritional content of seeds and how that relates to yield and quality potential of the crop. “This is going to be a huge database and it’s not just by crop, it’s also by variety,” says Randy Saskiw, sales manager at Omex Agriculture Inc. “And it will be constantly evolving because as new varieties are introduced, we are going to have different reference points.”
Although it may take a while for there to be a better understanding of, and benchmarks for, the nutritional content of seeds, ultimately this work should help you make better, cost effective decisions about a crop’s on-going fertility needs.