Getting covered: Treating flax seed

Flax has a reputation for being tough to treat. The benefits can make it worth the effort

Waxes and sugars make flax difficult to treat.

BASF’s Insure Pulse cleared registration in the spring of 2016, making it the second flax seed treatment on the Canadian market. Vitaflo, the other seed treatment option for flax, has been on the market since the ’70s, says a company representative.

But what benefits can flax growers expect, and how can they ensure they get good coverage with these seed treatments? Grainews spoke to the companies marketing the products and a third-party researcher to find out.

Flax seed has a reputation as tricky to treat. Russell Trischuk, technical marketing specialist with BASF, says even his own uncle is skeptical about treating flax seed, and Trischuk understands why.

“It’s kind of like putting paint on plastic for most products,” Trischuk says. The waxes and sugars on the seed coat are the cause, he explains.

But BASF added a little propylene glycol to Insure Pulse to keep it from freezing, Trischuk says. That glycol also sticks the treatment to the seed, he explains.

Steve Manning, Western Canada accounts manager for Arysta LifeScience, says they haven’t had issues with Vitaflo flaking. The seed treatment contains Carbathiin, a systemic fungicide, which penetrates the seed coat.

“And so coverage is good and getting inside that waxy layer of flax is not an issue for the product,” says Manning.

Disease control is the biggest benefit to seed treatments. Insure Pulse and Vitaflo both have active ingredients that shield plants from rhizoctonia solani and fusarium, which cause seed rot, root rot, and seedling blight.

“Generally they produce better. We’ve had some fields that have seen pretty significant yield boosts just because they’re getting plants off to a better start,” says Trischuk.

Pryaclostrobin, one of the active ingredients in Insure Pulse, improves vigour and emergence, and helps with “low temperature emergence recovery after frost,” says Trischuk.

Other active ingredients in Insure Pulse include Xemium, a Group 7, and Metalaxyl, a Group 4 that controls pythium.

Vitaflo also boosts emergence and plant health, through its systemic fungicide, Carbathiin, Manning says. It was one of the original SDHI fungicides on the market, he adds.

Vitaflo also contains Thiram, which controls any diseases on the seed.

Application dos and don’ts

Manning says the application tips for Vitaflo are similar to other products.

1. “Clean seed, obviously, that’s free of debris and dust is key,” he says.

2. Make sure coverage is uniform. Manning says farmers can use a range of equipment, including drip treaters, augers, G3 treaters, or storm treaters.

3. Don’t add water. “It’s really in a ready-to-use formulation so there’s no need to add water at all,” says Manning.

4. Store Vitaflo in a heated warehouse so it doesn’t freeze.

5. Vitaflo has one application rate for flax — 525 ml/100 kg of seed. How many acres that treats depends on the seeding rate, Manning says.

For the most part, farmers should handle Insure Pulse the same as any other seed treatment, Trischuk says. But Trischuk does have a few specific tips:

1. Don’t add water. Water will worsen adherence, Trischuk says.

2. Farmers can apply at 300 ml/100 kg or 600 ml/100 kg. If applying at 600 ml, treat it in the truck, then move it to the seeder. That extra step gives the extra moisture time to dry, preventing problems such as seed bridging, Trischuk says. He adds that extra step isn’t necessary at the 300 ml rate.

3. Nervous farmers shouldn’t feel pressured to treat all their flax acres. “If you’re uncomfortable, just start small and see how it works,” says Trischuk.

Both products are registered for other crops as well.

Insure Pulse can be used on every pulse crop grown in Western Canada.

“We asked for crop class subgroup 6c, which encompasses things like faba beans. And there’s different species of peas that aren’t necessarily classified as field peas,” says Trischuk.

Vitaflo is a “perfect option” for farmers who haven’t been treating their seed because it offers good value and can be used on a range of crops, says Manning. Manning says many pulses, oilseeds and “essentially all cereals are on the label.”

What the research shows

In 2013, Viterra funded a study on fungicide and nutrient seed treatments in flax at Indian Head and Melfort. The treatments included:

1. Untreated check.

2. Fungicide seed treatment (Vitaflo).

3. Nutrient seed treatment (Awaken).

4. Fungicide and nutrient treatment.

It was a “one-shot deal,” says Chris Holzapfel, research manager of the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation. Holzapfel doesn’t want to make recommendations based on that one-year study. But he says the results were interesting enough to warrant more research.

Holzapfel says they saw a significant increase in emergence in the Vitaflo treatments. That didn’t translate into a significant yield benefit at both sites.

“But there was a pretty strong trend at Indian Head,” he says. The Vitaflo-treated seed saw about a four-bushel bump over the check and nutrient seed treatment at Indian Head.

Flax yields were really high that year, hitting up to 52 bushels per acre, says Holzapfel, meaning the Vitaflo yield bump added up to less than 10 per cent.

“But there was something there, I thought,” says Holzapfel.

BASF ran commercial trials for Insure Pulse, but the company wasn’t able to do much outside of permit work until the product was registered, says Trischuk.

Now that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has approved Insure Pulse, Indian Head is trialing it. Researchers are comparing treated flax to an untreated check, Holzapfel says. They’re also comparing seeding dates (May 3 vs. late May), and three seeding rates (33, 55, and 75 kg per hectare).

The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission (Sask Flax) applied for the research money for the Indian Head study, Holzapfel says.

Sask Flax is also coordinating Insure Pulse trials at Melfort’s Northeast Agriculture Research Foundation, Redvers’ South East Research Farm, and with Alberta Innovates in Vegreville. BASF is sharing costs in these studies.

Those trials are using the same protocols as the Indian Head study. Trischuk says they want to look at seeding rates because they’d seen “a pretty dramatic increase in plant emergence.” That’s led to flax growers wondering whether they can cut seeding rates.

“And we’re just not confident with the data we have to make any recommendations like that,” says Trischuk.

BASF is also working with a researcher on seed treatment rates. BASF wanted another look at what different rates “commanded for disease control” so they could fine-tune recommendations, says Trischuk.

Leaving a check strip is always a good practice, says Holzapfel, although he adds that it’s okay to view seed treatments as insurance. For farmers who are leaving a check strip, Holzapfel suggests doing some emergence counts, along with comparing yield.

Research with winter wheat reveals that farmers see the greatest benefit from seed treatments under adverse conditions, says Holzapfel. Better emergence doesn’t always translate into better yield, he says, as good weather and a decent stand could allow the crop to catch up later.

“But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t potentially some value there,” says Holzapfel.

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