With spring on the way (we hope), many of you are gearing up in earnest for seeding.
Unlike other crops, pulses require an extra step, inoculating, before being put in the ground. Inoculating can be time-consuming, messy and dusty, and hauling an extra tank around at seeding can be cumbersome. To add to the time crunch, once pulses are inoculated, the clock starts ticking. Even if growers use a granular inoculant, which goes into the furrow instead of onto the seed, they are under time pressure; inoculants are live rhizobia bacteria and can be destroyed through desiccation, overheating, or freezing. The window for getting it into the field is roughly 24 hours.
ProTec Formulation is a possible solution to some of that stress. It’s a polymer seed coating that provides an extended shelf life to dry powder inoculants. This means that farmers can apply the inoculant earlier and take up to three weeks, sometimes longer, to plant the seed. Seeding becomes one step less hectic.
Grow-Tec Seed Coaters developed the liquid seed coating in the mid-1990s and Saskatchewan-based Innovative Ag Performance Group (IAP) now does the manufacturing. ProTec has been available to farmers since 1999 and now is approved for use by the CFIA.
Craig Schumacher, president of Innovative Ag Performance Group says farmers have really taken to the overall concept of the polymer. While ProTec has received a positive response from many independent chemical and fertilizer dealers, purchasing the equipment and training staff to apply it has been an impediment.
“In the spring, they’re scraping together all the labour they can find to run their own operation,” says Schumacher.
As a result, Innovative Ag brings the equipment to the farm to apply ProTec with the inoculant and other desired seed treatments. Farmers book a day with one of four two-person crews. Once the weather is warm enough, the teams hit the road. The earliest treatments are usually in the southwestern part of Saskatchewan and into southeastern Alberta where the weather is warmer sooner and the products won’t freeze overnight.
The seed can be treated onto trucks or it can be treated back into the bin. The process is continuous, and IAP’s equipment can handle 1,000 bushels an hour. Growers can see the machinery operate online at www.innovative-ag.ca.
“The only hiccup is if it’s a cool damp day and the seed doesn’t dry properly,” says Schumacher. In that case, it is left it on the truck for 10 to 15 hours and put it in the bin afterwards.
GOOD FOR NEARLY A MONTH
Once the grain is treated and put back into the bin, the grower has 21 to 30 days to seed it. Schumacher says most farmers are relieved to have one job out of the way. He says farmers can save six hours a day not having to treat their pulse seed on the spot. ProTec is especially convenient for larger farmers since they have more challenges with time while smaller farmers “aren’t in such a hurry to get seeding done,” he says.
The cost for on-farm application of ProTec is approximately $4 per bushel for lentils and chickpeas, and $3.50 per bushel for peas. The service includes the inoculant, the polymer coating and labour. Schumacher points out that “the beauty of all this is that we can also add other products — micro-nutrients, fungicides, other seed treatments.” Farmers may provide additional products or IAP will bring them at the producer’s request.
Many of the guidelines for working with inoculants apply to seed that has been treated with ProTec. For instance, it should be stored in a cool place; sunlight and excessive heat should be avoided as well as repeated freezing and thawing. Some seed treatments combined with ProTec shorten the shelf life of the pre-inoculated seed. Pre-inoculated seed should not be fed to livestock.
Dale Mainil, an early convert to ProTec, farms 16,500 acres of wheat, durum, canola, lentils, flax and canary seed near Weyburn, Sask. He’s been using ProTec on his lentils for three years. He first decided to try it when a friend and fellow farmer recommended it to him.
At the time, Mainil was using granular inoculant, which he preferred to the peat that he’d previously used as peat “was dirty and not very user-friendly.” Plus, he had to deal with it right at the time of seeding application. Though he’d come to prefer granular application over peat-based application, Mainil felt he got better results from the peat-based inoculant. What he really wanted was an inoculant applied directly to the seed, rather than scattered in the furrow alongside the seed. Using ProTec, Mainil feels he’s managed to get the best of both worlds: a product that is easy to work with and an inoculant that is applied right to the seed.
Three weeks ahead of seeding time, the ProTec crew arrives with their unit, the lentils are treated and then put back in the bin. When it’s time to seed, the air seeder is loaded and Mainil says, “You’re done.” Mainil appreciates having one less operation at seeding time. This has led to increased productivity; on his farm he can do more acres per fill and it takes less time to fill the drill.
Mainil doesn’t feel that ProTec has actually increased his lentil yield but he says it hasn’t decreased it either. But for Mainil, the goal isn’t yield but rather convenience, efficiency, and seed-applied inoculant. He likes IAP’s quick and trouble-free process.
“I show them the bins and they’re done within a day,” he says. “I have to have some trucks there for them. That’s it.”
The only drawback Mainil has noticed is that the treated lentils can be a little tougher to handle after they’re dumped into the truck. The polymer-coated seeds do crust up somewhat but Mainil says, “Once you run them through the auger, it’s fine.” Of course, he notes, weather can be an issue — when it’s damp, the inoculated seed may not dry properly.
Mainil encourages interested farmers to try a portion of their crop with ProTec and then compare.
LIMITED PUBLIC RESEARCH
There has been very little independent research on ProTec in Western Canada, says Mark Olson, pulse crops research agrologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
Garry Hnatowich, senior research agronomist with Novozymes hasn’t had experience with ProTec in his present position either. Hnatowich encourages producers who want to use the coating to check with the inoculant company; if the inoculant is affected by the treatment, the grower won’t be able to turn to the company for compensation.
Now that ProTec has been registered, research will follow, predicts Dale Risula, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture special crops specialist. He says he thinks the idea of a polymer coating is a good one but the problem with inoculants, as he sees it, is that they are subject to desiccation. If this technology could curb losses from desiccation, then it would be good to try.
Though independent research has yet to be conducted, ProTec appears to have a growing following among pulse farmers on the prairies.
Farmers interested in checking out ProTec can contact Innovative Ag Performance Group through their website www.innovative-ag.ca or call 1-888-526-2837.