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Some seed may be in short supply

Last fall’s ‘winter’ took a heavy toll on seed quality for 2019

Ward Oatway, president of the Alberta Seed Growers Association, says farmers who haven’t already booked their seed may find seed for some cereals difficult to find.
photo: Alberta Seed Growers Association

Seed people are saying the 2018 harvest season was one of the toughest in decades on seed quality across parts of Western Canada. If you do have seed make sure it’s germination tested before seeding, and if you haven’t lined up certified seed you might be disappointed — certain crop types and varieties may not be available.

Snow, cold and wet conditions during much of the past September and October harvest really did a number on certified seed production through much of the central and northern Prairie regions.

Morgan Webb, owner of Seed Check Technologies at Leduc, Alta., near Edmonton says the quality is the worst he has seen in more than two decades of testing seed. While Ward Oatway, president of the Alberta Seed Growers Association, who farms at Clive, northeast of Red Deer, says farmers who haven’t already booked their seed may find seed for some cereals in particular difficult to find.

Seed produced across the southern Prairies generally has pretty good quality, however, in central and northern areas that experienced “almost three different winters” over the fall months, poor seed quality is certainly an issue.

“It is the worst season I have seen in more than 25 years of testing seed,” says Webb. “Germination rates are terrible.” Due to relatively dry growing conditions during crop flower, the level of seed-borne diseases is quite low, but seed germination and vigour rates are another matter.

Certified seed comes with an identified germination and vigour rate on the label. Morgan Webb says if producers are growing their own saved seed, it should be tested.
photo: Morgan Webb, Seed Check Technologies

Webb says seed quality in crops across the southern Prairies is quite good, for the most part. “Germination rates and vigour tests show great quality,” he says. “However, because it was quite dry across these areas, seeds tend to be thin and light.” Webb says it is particularly important to perform a 1,000-kernel seed count and weight (rather than the bushels-per-acre estimate) before seeding this spring. He recommends farmers use online seeding rate calculators to help determine a proper seeding rate.

Hard frost and freezing at different times during September to November took a toll on seed quality. Any crops harvested early, or crops that missed the snow and freezing temperatures weren’t affected.

Peas and canola largely OK

Oatway says pea seed supplies are generally good since pulse crops tend to be harvested earlier, and much of the hybrid canola seed is produced in southern Prairie regions, so supplies shouldn’t be greatly affected.

On his own farm at Clive, he managed to get peas, hard red spring wheat and barley harvested before the early onset of winter. But his fields of Canadian Prairie Spring Wheat seed were hit hard by snow and frost.

Cereal seed supplies from around Wetaskiwin in central Alberta and north appear to be the hardest hit, says Oatway. He says there have been many calls from people looking for barley and oat seed and it is extremely limited. “Cereal crops tend to be harvested later so those seed supplies were hit hard,” he says.

Certified canola, wheat, and barley seed need a germination test level of at least 85 per cent to be considered No. 1, while peas, durum and hulless barley need a germination rate of 80 per cent to be certified No. 1. Vigour test rates, when measured by percentage, should be in about the same range. The certified No. 2 seed germination rates are 75 and 70 per cent, respectively.

“Most years farmers would never see certified No. 2 seed but this year they might because of limited seed supply among some crop types,” says Webb.

Seed batches with lower germination and vigour rates will still grow, but farmers need to adjust seeding rates accordingly. If the germination rate is 85 per cent, in theory the seeding rate should be increased by 15 per cent. Again, the online calculators can help farmers calculate a seeding rate based on several factors including 1,000 kernel weight, targeted plant density, and estimated seedling mortality rates.

Certified seed comes with an identified germination and vigour rate on the label. If producers are growing their own saved seed, it should be tested, says Webb.

“That would be my recommendation every year, but particularly in a year like this it is crucial,” he says. Just because seeds may visually look good, that is no guarantee of quality.

“Many crops last fall froze hard and then they got wet and froze again, so there can be varying degrees of sprouting happening inside the seed which isn’t always visible on the outside of the kernel,” he says. “Sprouting not only affects germination rate, but also seed vigour.”

Seed batches with lower germination and vigour rates will still grow, but farmers need to adjust seeding rates accordingly.
photo: Morgan Webb, Seed Check Technologies

Due to the stresses seed crops faced last fall, quality can continue to decline over winter. If a producer happened to have bin-run seed germination tested last December, for example, it would be worthwhile to have it tested again before seeding in May. And using home germination tests doesn’t always provide a true picture either, says Webb. The wet, cold conditions might have caused harvest dormancy, which means the seed might not germinate, but could still be quite viable once dormancy is broken. Seed test labs can evaluate that.

“One of the biggest mistakes is in not having seed properly tested,” says Webb. “It is one of the most affordable inputs in helping producers optimize yield and profits.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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