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The certified seed hype

There’s a lot of hype around farmers using certified seed. Some agronomists believe it’s well worth the extra cost

Certified seed use is all but 100 per cent in canola, the second biggest crop in Western Canada (after wheat). Yet certified seed use in wheat in Western Canada hovers around 20 per cent. In durum, it’s even lower at around 16 per cent, according to the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA). Why the big discrepancy between wheat and canola?

“The primary reason for the low rate of use of certified seed is likely due to the fact farmers have the right to save and use their own production for seed on their own land,” says Rod Merryweather, the new chief executive officer at FP Genetics. “Many farmers buy certified seed of a variety once and then use farm saved seed over the next few years.”

The situation is very different in canola or corn. Because both are hybrids it means that yield the following year is much lower. “Farmers also have to sign technology use agreements when they purchase canola or soybean seed,” explains Merryweather. “This explicitly prevents farmers from keeping seed for further use.”

Using certified seed

Dan Owen is the agronomy manager at Hudye Soil Services who operate in Norquay, Kamsack and Sturgis, Saskatchewan. Owen is a relatively recent immigrant from the U.K. where certified seed use in cereals is much higher than here on the Prairies, estimated at just under 60 per cent, according to data from CSTA. “I have no vested interest in certified seed in terms of selling it,” says Owen. “But I advise all my customers to use certified seed or at a minimum, only use farm saved seed for one year past certified.”

Owen and others believe that while seed germination may not be negatively impacted year-over-year in farm saved seed, vigour certainly will be. “Getting the crop to pop out of the ground fast, vigorously and evenly is the best strategy toward maximizing yield potential,” says Owen. Both Owen and Merryweather also point to farm saved seed losing the attributes of the variety, as it becomes contaminated with other varieties. “Seed growers fields are inspected annually for off-types, volunteers and so on,” says Merryweather. “The variety has to be true to type each and every inspection.” Owen concurs saying farmers really can’t be sure what they are seeding if they are using farm saved seed.

Certified seed brings with it certain standards for cleanliness, germination and overall purity. “2014 presents a great opportunity for farmers to invest in certified seed,” says Merryweather. “Seed growers, like other farmers, had a tremendous crop that is high quality.”

Merryweather also notes that the incremental investment in certified seed over farm saved seed is worth it for the extra yield potential and disease resistance. “New varieties are yielding 10 to 20 per cent more than the checks,” says Merryweather. “These are tried and tested for a number of years now and as well as increases in yield, our wheat breeders have advanced the needle on disease resistance.”

Large farmers tend to either use certified seed or have a plan in place to multiply up seed for their farm in a very deliberate way. “The issue with growing farm saved seed year-over-year is it will eventually become less and less true to variety,” says Owen. “Properties that were deliberately chosen by the farmer for his particular situation may deplete in farm saved seed over time.”

Costs of farm saved seed

Farm saved seed is certainly not free. It still needs to be cleaned, tested and treated, as well as the farmer foregoing the commercial sale, not to mention the logistical challenges of getting all this done.

“For the additional $5 or $6 per acre cost of using certified seed, the extra yield and better disease resistance giving higher quality grain alone will make up this cost,” says Merryweather. “It really is a false economy to start the crop with anything less than the best possible seed. All the seed treatments, micro-nutrients and other expensive inputs cannot make up that difference. In my opinion, certified seed is an investment that will lead to the best returns for farmers.”

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