Q: When is the best time to submit seed for germination testing?
A: A seed germination test is a critical first step in determining the viability of seed for planting a new crop. It helps determine if the seed should be planted, and helps establish a seeding rate that achieves target plant populations in the field.
Germination is defined as the seed that can emerge and form essential plant structures from the seed embryo (roots/hypocotyl/cotyledon, etc.). The germ test identifies normal and abnormal seedlings, and is expressed as a percentage. For example, No. 1 certified wheat is required to have 85 per cent germination. Normal seedlings, under favourable field conditions, will develop into productive, mature plants. Knowing your germination percentage in comparison to pedigree seed allows you to make informed decisions.
If you wish, you can sample during harvest, but ensure it is a dry sample. If you have excellent germination, you can move the seed to the next steps which include proper storage, disease testing and cleaning. If the seed is borderline, you may want to see how the total seed market is fairing, prior to utilizing your seed. If the germination is sub-par, start to look for alternative sources. Beyond the straight germination test farmers may want to include a vigour (cool seed test) and disease test (ie. avoiding fusarium in wheat), as this will help determine if the seed should be kept and planted.
A second test is recommended in February or early March to ensure your seed lot has maintained its germination. Storage challenges or disease can negatively impact seed quality.
Finally, when collecting a sample to submit to the lab, ensure it is a representative sample. This is easily accomplished in the fall. Collect samples as you empty trucks into the bin. The winter sample is more difficult to gather as you need to obtain a representative sample from the grain bin.
Ernie Nycholat, P. Ag, CCA, is a manager of agronomic services with Nutrien Ag Solutions in north central Alberta.