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Top Cereals Start With Good Seed

Quality in equals quality out. The seed you plant and the way you seed it will have

a significant impact on your crop’s stand establishment and its ability to compete with weeds, diseases and insects throughout the growing season.

Like many crops in the Prairies, cereals took a big hit this year due to difficult weather conditions. With the tumultuous weather we’ve been experiencing across Canada, seed selection and best practices from seeding through to harvest are more important than ever. The following are five tips to help make the best choices when purchasing, preparing for and planting cereal seed.


When it comes to seed, quality matters. Certified seed is the only way to know your seed is pure. In addition to purity, your seed should not be mixed with other classes or crops, should not have any prohibited or restricted noxious weeds, and if any weed seeds are present, these should be low levels only. Always be sure you know the source of the seed, read the seed tag carefully, and buy from a credible source.

Certified seed is even more important in unstable weather conditions such as those we’ve seen recently. Unfavourable spring growing conditions following emergence can have a notably worse effect on seedlings from low quality seed than on those from high quality seed. Weak seedlings are more likely to be killed by dry conditions. Similarly, seedlings from quality seed are likely to fare better should spring frost hit. As always, results from using low quality seed will depend on temperature, soil moisture conditions and disease following germination. Using quality certified seed is your best defense against challenging conditions.


Certified seed guarantees quality in terms of germination and varietal purity, but does not guarantee freedom from seed-borne disease. Be sure to have even certified seed tested for the presence of disease and to assess the seed’s germination potential.

For wheat growers, fusarium head blight (FHB) is a particular concern and is worth testing for. Fusarium can be spread by planting infected seed, which may result in widespread distribution of disease within the crop. Infection by seed also means an increased number of infection sites from which the disease can spread.


Research has indicated that seeding cereals early helps maximize the growing season and can mean better yield results. But planting seeds in cold soil can mean reduced stand establishment and increased infection from soil and seed-borne diseases.

To mitigate these risks, apply a seed treatment with the active ingredient thiamethoxam. This not only helps protect seeds and seedlings from pests, including wireworm, research shows it also increases plant vigour, results in faster and more uniform emergence and increases stand establishment and root mass. Plants that have a more vigorous start are better able to cope with early season stressors, such as frost, so growers who use seed treatments are less likely to see yield reductions due to seeding in colder temperatures.

If you have questions about how to select a seed treatment, consult your territory manager, retailer or local agronomist.


Good seedbed preparation has a significant influence on crop emergence and stand establishment. One of the most common causes of seed failing to germinate properly is poor seed-to-soil contact, which can be a function of poor seedbed preparation. Shallow-seeded crops such as canola are particularly susceptible to poor seedbed conditions, but cereals will be affected as well.

A well-prepared seedbed should be level, uniform, and well packed. The seedbed should be as free as possible from weeds, and previous crop residue should be evenly spread as clumps of chaff or straw can reduce or delay stand establishment.

While tillage can help to control weeds and bury trash, it is not recommended as it can deplete soil moisture and contribute to erosion. The reduction in conventional tillage across the Prairies has led to an increase of pre-seed burndown operations to clean fields of weeds. Keep in mind that pre-seed burn-downs are most successful when they’re done just before seeding, as spraying too early can result in new weeds growing in before seeding takes place.


When it comes to seeding, follow best practices for seeding depth, rate, and row spacing. Seed should be planted only as deep as necessary to obtain good seed-to-soil contact, because seed that’s planted too deep can result in poor and slower emergence and require higher seeding rates to obtain a full stand. Semi dwarf spring wheat should be planted no deeper than two inches and tall wheat no deeper than three inches. Ideal planting depth for wheat is 1.5 to two inches.

Optimal seeding rates differ for each crop. For hard red spring, CPS wheat, oats and rye, the ideal plant stand is 23 to 28 plants per square foot. For soft white spring, the ideal stand is 20 plants per square foot. For barley, it’s 20 to 24.

When seeding, remember that row spacing has a big influence on the crop’s access to water, nutrients and sunlight as well as its ability to compete against weeds. When it comes to seedbed utilization, aim for less space between rows to get the best use of sunlight and moisture retention.

In farming, many factors are beyond our control, including weather. By making careful choices with the things you can control, starting right from seed selection, you can give your crop the very best chance for a strong start, and ultimately, a plentiful harvest. At Syngenta, we call this the Total Approach. It’s about making the most of the best practices, tools and technology available for a plentiful yield, and a profitable, sustainable farm.

Jason Pickering is an agronomic brand manager with Syngenta Canada.

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