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Three good reasons to test seed lots now

Don’t let last year’s problems become next year’s problems. Test your seed before it’s too late

Barley seeds in a petri dish.

The 2013 growing season is over, but it will linger well into the next growing season. Why? Because seed quality for next year’s crop is very dependent on conditions experienced in the previous year. The top three reasons to test seed are to know more about germination, vigour and disease levels.

“2013 produced what looks like an average seed crop compared to the previous year,” says Holly Gelech, business development manager at BioVision Seed Labs in Edmonton. Gelech says that, generally speaking, farmers in Western Canada experienced an open fall with very little weathering and no frost damage to seed. “From what we’re seeing, germination looks very average, quite solid actually, but there are some problems farmers should be alert to,” she says.

“Some farm saved seed is showing damage from pre-harvest application of glyphosate products. While this may not impact sprouting, per se, those seeds will produce abnormal seedlings. We never see this sort of damage with seed lots from seed growers who are focussed on seed quality, but often from commercial growers whose focus is generally commercial or end-use grain quality.”

A second problem is that fusarium is impacting germination on cereal samples from Ontario to B.C.

“There is one big positive from 2013, and that is the improvement in soybean germination,” says Gelech. “In 2011 and 2012, it was hot and dry at harvest time and soybean suffered significant mechanical damage from harvesting and binning operations. In 2013, mechanical damage was lower and soybean germinations are much better.”

Bruce Carriere, owner of Discovery Seed Labs in Saskatoon concurs. “Germination and vigour are substantially better than we saw in 2012,” he says. “Yes, there are some pockets that are poorer, like south of Highway No. 1 for durum seed that took a beating at harvest when it rained, but generally, it’s a better year.”

Germination is generally most impacted by what happens at the end of the growth cycle. If harvest weather is cold and wet, or hot and dry or if there is frost there will be negative impacts on the ability of the seed to germinate. Prolonged cool periods at harvest can cause dormancy in seed. 2013 was mostly free from those sorts of problems.

Testing seed lots

Seed should be tested twice. The first test should be in the fall-end of January timeframe. At that time, cereals should have a germination and cool-stress, or vigour, test. Depending on location, testing for fungal diseases should also be considered. A second round of testing is recommended closer to seeding.

While germination testing this year indicates no major issues for 2014, a vigour test is still strongly recommended. Environmental stress is not accounted for by a germination test which means seed lots with equal germination but different vigours can lead to much different plant establishments. A vigour test indicates the potential for rapid, uniform emergence and development of normal seedlings under a wide range of field conditions. The standard vigour test used is the cool-stress test where seed is germinated under cool conditions and evaluated. “It is not uncommon for a seed lot to have a good germination but poor vigour,” says Gelech. “This year, in fact, we are seeing exactly that regionally.”

A disease test can range from just testing for Fusarium graminearum to a full fungal scan. “I recommend a full fungal scan which will identify all fusarium species as well as root rots,” says Gelech. “Root rots are important in that, like Fusarium spp., they can cause seedling blights which will negatively impact seedling development and stand establishment in the field.” Storage moulds will also be detected if they are present.

BioVision Seed Labs will custom treat seed in the lab to determine if germination can be improved. “We cannot, of course, remedy glyphosate damage or frost damage, but there may be some improvement in germination when seeds with fungal infections are treated with a seed treatment product,” explains Gelech.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: Researcher examining the role of microbe in helping crops grow

After the seed lot had been cleaned in preparation for seeding, Gelech recommends testing a second time. “This time I recommend farmers test again for germination so there are no surprises,” she says. “Kernel weight can also be determined at this time.” By knowing the 1,000-kernel weight, seeding rates can be calculated more accurately to ensure the targeted plant population is met. “Seed testing should be part of your overall cropping strategy, especially if you are using farm saved seed,” says Gelech. “It’s a small investment to make to ensure the success of next year’s crop.”

Carriere at Discovery Seed Labs goes on to emphasise the importance of seed treatment coverage. “Ten or more years ago it wasn’t as important to get the kind of even coverage recommended today,” he explains. “Seed treatments were glycol based, and they penetrated the seed coat and attacked the disease even before seeding. Now, water-based seed treatments do not penetrate the seed coat and need to contact with the disease to control it. The disease is not controlled until it and the seed start to grow. If even a spot on the seed is not treated it provides an avenue for the disease to successfully grow and establish itself and inflict damage.” †

Andrea Hilderman has her master’s degree in weed science and is a member of the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists. She writes from Winnipeg, Man.

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