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Saving your seed

While there are many benefits to using certified seed, not all farmers plan to buy it. 
Here are some tips for farmers saving seed

Wheat field with blue sky in background.

Using certified seed allows farmers to focus on growing and provides quality seed with potentially new marketing opportunities for the crop, risk management, and access to new varieties, says Lorena Pahl, general manager of the Alberta Seed Growers’ Association.

“Certified seed captures the full benefits of a plant breeding program — not just the first chance to get a new variety, but getting the best of that variety every year,” says Pahl.

“The stringent conditions under which certified seed is produced gives extra assurance of quality, purity, and pedigree.”

That said, not all farmers are going to buy certified seed every year. If this is you, here are some suggestions for making the most from your own seed.

Still want to save seed?

When farmers save production off the field where certified seed was formerly planted to use as seed for their own use, they should be diligent on how that seed is handled.

For starters, ensure volunteers from previous crop use are controlled through proper crop rotation and weed management.

Due diligence on sampling procedures, combine clean out, and proper storage will help ensure quality farm-saved seed.

Risk management practises should include testing your seed for germination, vigour, fusarium graminearum and other pertinent diseases in your area before it’s planted in the spring.

If low-quality seed is the limiting factor on your farm, no matter how much herbicide, fungicide, or fertilizer is applied, that potential is lost.

Whether you are using your own farm-saved seed or purchasing certified seed, ensure you know what varieties are growing in your fields.

Collecting seed

Although using certified seed is one of the best ways to ensure quality, harvesting and replanting seeds from good looking grain fields stands is a regular practice on many farms.

Regardless of how good a seed cleaning job the combine did in the field, the amount of weed seed content left in the crop seed, and whether it will be drilled or broadcast, a grower should have it cleaned.

Extra care should be taken with weed seed infested cereals, particularly if the seed came from another farm or location altogether.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: Plant diseases to look for in 2014

The collected seed should be dried carefully (to 10 to 12 per cent seed moisture content) soon after harvesting. Ensure the seed temperature does not exceed 32 C, as that may have an affect on germination (ensuring not to over-dry the seed, as it may, again, affect germination). This is a relatively easy task on the Prairies, unless a farmer intends to keep the seed over the summer.

While the seed is exposed to air, it may gain or lose water according to the surrounding air’s relative humidity.

At 50 per cent atmospheric relative humidity, the balance moisture content is about 12 per cent for wheat and rye seeds, about 11 per cent for barley, and about 10.5 per cent for oats.

When the balance moisture content of a small grain seed is exposed to 70 per cent relative humidity, it will be at 15 per cent which is too high for safe storage.

At 90 per cent atmospheric relative humidity, the seed moisture content of several small grain crops goes up to 20 to 23 per cent. Under these conditions, viability and vigour are quickly lost.

The temperature and relative humidity of the space where seed is stored is especially important for summer storage, although these factors are largely out of farmers’ control. However, farmers can choose a storage space where the temperature and humidity are as low as possible during the time that the seed will be stored.

Although small grain seed is usually stored over the winter months in the Canadian Prairies, there is still the risk of infestation and damage from insects, rodents, mould, or moisture leak.

No matter how you store seed — in a bin, gravity wagon, piled on a concrete floor or in grain bags — ensure the storage space has been cleaned of any old grain that could harbour storage insect pests.

Commercial labs offer seed testing services for farmers wanting to grow their own seed.

Have your seed tested for germination, purity, vigour before planting.

Rebeca Kuropata is a professional writer in Winnipeg, Man.

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