International consultants Kline & Company recently pegged the global seed treatment market at over $2.5 billion. They predict that the market will continue to grow since seed treatment is considered “a cost-effective method to protect the increasingly valuable seed.”
Canada reflects this trend as more farmers plant treated seed. Most seed treatments involve applying a formulation of fungicides — and about one-third include insecticides — to the seed before it goes into the ground.
Of the seed that Brent Clark of Superior Agri-Services in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., sees go to his customers, he estimates that all of the canola and about 50 per cent of the cereals are treated. He observes that farmers who are buying seed from their retailer are more likely to have it treated than those who are using their own seed.
“As seed prices go up, growers can’t afford to have a wreck. If a farmer’s spending X amount of dollars to put this crop in the ground, and X number of hours seeding it and get it growing, why not give it the best opportunity for an extra couple of bucks then Clark says?
Scott Chapman, BASF Seed-Solutions manager, agrees. As the value of seed increases so does the interest in protecting that investment. He notes that the return on seed treatment investment is quite significant. Two bushels per acre return easily covers the cost of seed treatment.
Proper coverage and distribution when treating seed is key. Otherwise, Clark believes growers are wasting their money. Growers get into a hurry in the spring so seed treatment can be a pain. He urges farmers to invest in proper equipment like the G3 Applicator, which costs about $2,000, or to have their seed custom treated by a bulk seed dealer.
Seed treatments are growing in importance partly because producers are seeding much earlier. With direct seeding and larger numbers of acres, farmers are putting in crops as early as April. This means seeds are lying longer in cold ground, and are more susceptible to damping off and disease. Ted Labun, technical lead for Syngenta Seed Care, says that last year farmers saw an overall benefit to treating seeds because of the exceptionally cool spring. Growers he heard from felt seed treatments played an important role in protecting seeds from cold stress conditions. Labun notes that farmers putting untreated seed into the ground need to wait for optimum weather while farmers planting treated seed can get the crop going despite non-ideal conditions.
NEW PRODUCTS FOR 2010
Ted Labun says the most notable thing in Syngenta seed treatments this spring is the registration of Cruiser Maxx Pulses. It was registered in fall 2009 so this spring growers will be able to treat lentils, chickpeas, and peas. Peas already had a registration for pea leaf weevil; the formulation has been reworked to take care of additional pests. For lentils and chick peas, the registration is brand new.
Labun says that research suggests Cruiser Maxx Pulses results in better stand establishment and better emergence, which not only translate into a good yield response but provide a huge benefit for controlling wireworms since they feed on emerging crops. Labun feels that wireworm control is key for seed treatments in the future. He predicts that in the next five years more, better seed treatments will arrive on the market that control everything from seed and soil-borne diseases to insect pests.
Labun advises growers to ensure they start off with high quality seed. Seed treatments aren’t useful if the seeds are not good in the first place. Labun says growers should be testing for germination as well as for vigour and disease especially if they are using farm saved seed.
BASF’s Chapman says that in 2010 farmers can look forward to using Charter RTU, a new ready-to-use formulation of Charter that was registered in September 2009. Charter RTU provides broad-spectrum disease control and is especially useful for smut in barley. What’s new is the formulation: growers don’t need to add water, which is especially convenient for those who don’t have access to an easy source.
Chapman points farmers towards new studies released about Gemini, a BASF seed treatment that uses two types of fungicides to control seed and soil-borne fusarium. Fusarium is an increasing concern on the prairies. Not only does Gemini provide excellent fusarium protection, Chapman says recent test results also show that compared to untreated seed, Gemini-treated seed has a higher rate of germination — 11 per cent higher in 2009 and so far in 2010 the average is 14 per cent higher.
Graham Hastie, manager, cereal crops, fungicides, insecticides and seed treatments, says Bayer CropScience is waiting on the final registration of Raxil WW and plan to launch it in the third week of April, if approval is granted. Raxil WW is a fungicide combined with a new formulation of imidacloprid for Stress Shield protection against wireworms. 2010 will also be a big year for Trilex AL, a seed treatment for pulses that was launched late in the 2009 season. Trilex AL controls a number of diseases in pulses. It also suppresses ascochyta and provides improved compatibility with inoculants.
New formulations are important; for instance, in two years, a new and improved version of Raxil will be released with a different active ingredient.
Hastie predicts that ease of applications will also improve. He sees application as a huge challenge for farmers for a few reasons. They can be complicated and hard to clean up. Hastie says Bayer Crop Science has worked hard to address these issues; ease of application is the reason they developed Raxil MD — so farmers could focus on getting good even coverage. As Hastie says, “It’s not important just to get the treatment on but to get it on properly.” He also believes that new formulations will be safer with less dusting off.
To select the appropriate seed treatment, farmers need to weigh a number of factors. In Clark’s opinion, farmers often don’t base their seed treatment decisions on agronomics but rather on rebate programs. “If you use a lot of one company’s programs, you’ll probably use that company’s seed treatment.” For Clark, “It doesn’t really matter what growers use as long as they use something.”
Patty Milligan is a freelancer writer from Bon Accord, Alta.