Blazing a Trail: The Next Phase of the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards implementation

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The scope of the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards is about to expand. All commercial seed treatment operations, including those treating cereal and pulses, must successfully complete an audit of the standards by Dec. 31, 2020. Non-compliance will be enforced by an industry no-ship policy effective Jan. 1, 2021. Alberta Seed Guidespoke with Russel Hurst, CropLife Canada’s vice-president of sustainability and stewardship, about the journey ahead on the road to standards compliance and the effect implementation will have on industry stakeholders.

ASG: What has the journey been like so far toward implementing the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards?

RH: The whole process has been a unique journey. One of the program’s early drivers was to address environmental, health and safety protocols within the seed treatment sector. We viewed seed treatment, which was a rapidly expanding component within the pesticide sector, as a gap in our stewardship program.

This is a vibrant seed industry. If we have robust environmental, health and safety standards, we can stay away from onerous provincial and federal government regulations: in an ideal world, we can communicate that national standard to provincial ministries of agriculture and the environment and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency at the federal level.

The process may be led by CropLife, but we do a lot of briefings with seed growers, seed cleaning co-ops and seed companies to make sure their wants, needs and desires are met. At the end of the day, maybe not everyone is happy 100 per cent of the time, but we’re looking to this process to answer how we continue to culture a vibrant seed sector.

Generally speaking, we’re fairly happy with how 2018 turned out. By July, 382 facilities across the country, which is the majority of operations, had successfully passed the audit. About three dozen facilities are in the process of finalizing their audits, however, they didn’t get certified for the 2018 seed treatment year. Typically, those were facilities that weren’t treating corn, canola or soybeans, but have aspirations of doing so.

The largest number of certified facilities is in Manitoba, primarily because that’s where a high number of seed growers are located and it’s where the soybean business has expanded significantly over the last couple of years. That number will trend upwards in Saskatchewan and Alberta over time.

Any new facility coming online that wants to treat seed commercially — soybeans, canola, and to a lesser extent corn — in Western Canada, will have to complete an audit.

ASG: What are your observations from the first year of program implementation?

Russel Hurst

RH: In terms of the lessons we’ve learned from the audit process to date, we’ve had a very low level of compliance and enforcement issues. Individuals who did try to purchase designated seed treatment products from an ag-retailer usually weren’t fully aware of the requirements — it was more misinformation or misunderstanding rather than deliberate non-compliance.

We also learned the audit protocols must be meaningful to mobile seed treaters. When we first started auditing facilities we had a handful of mobile treaters — they were the exception. Within the audit protocols, roughly two-thirds are applicable to mobile treaters.

This fall, the working group will be going through those audit protocols to ensure they’re meaningful to mobile treaters because of the unique way their businesses operate.

We also see continuous improvement to a facility’s ability to do paperwork, training, education and documentation. That’s been the biggest gap throughout the entire process. All operators, and these are incredibly smart people, know their businesses very well. The biggest gap has been showing us that from an audit standpoint, through documentation. This is a work in progress. It’s something we’ll look to improve upon through templates, or by helping people help themselves.

Moving forward, we’ll likely see associations and registrants in the seed treatment business get more involved because they see it as an opportunity to help their members or customers.

One observation that took us by surprise is this process helps governments increase their levels of compliance with regulations, such as provincial licences for example. We can let an operator know they need a licence for X, Y or Z, but we do that in a safe way.

ASG: What is the path forward from now until the end of 2020?

RH: We’ll continue to use the designated seed treatment products list, which will get updated and reissued annually at a minimum. Typically, the list will be updated toward the end of October, as this is the time of year most new registrations coming online for the next crop year are completed. We’ll do this for the seed treatment years 2019 and 2020.

ASG: What happens beyond 2020?

RH: The program is going to change for 2021. The direction from our May CropLife board meeting was to implement phase II of the Seed Treatment Operation Standards program. We’re going to do away with the designated seed treatment products list. All commercial seed treatment operators — if you’re treating seed for sale or gain we deem you a commercial treater — will be required to go through and pass an audit by Dec. 31, 2020, to access seed treatment products. A no-ship policy will be implemented Jan. 1, 2021.

If you’re a farmer treating seed on-farm, continue to do what you’ve been doing. If you’re a commercial treater and you’re treating corn, canola and soybeans, continue doing your audits, you’ve already gone through that checkpoint. If you’re treating cereals or pulses commercially, by 2021 you must complete an audit.

For those seed treatment facilities in the cereals and pulse space, it’s going to be the same journey the corn, canola and soybean operators went through from 2014 to 2018. They’re just going to do it a couple years later.

In terms of preparing the industry for that, some of these sites have already completed a pre-audit as part of phase I. We will go through that same process for phase II of the program.

If you’re a commercial seed treatment facility that hasn’t gone through this process, we highly encourage completing a pre-audit. I am also fairly confident there will be some sort of pre-audit incentive.

The key piece about the pre-audit is the operator has a GAP assessment, so they have an incredibly clear understanding of what they’re doing now and what they need to do to pass an audit.

The message we try to convey is this doesn’t need to be a $10,000 investment, it can be significantly less than that. You just need to identify as an operator what best fits your operation. We do that as part of the pre-audit. We also supply templates for facilities, and we build a binder: we’ll provide the operator with the facility’s documentation requirements. Basically, operators need to fill in the blanks. They need to make it meaningful for their operations.

The purpose of the build-a-binder is for operators to understand the risks unique to their operations, to develop mitigation strategies and to understand where the risks impact them. It’s a journey sites go on of self-identification and things they can do to improve the environmental, health and safety impact of their operations.

The reality is, these types of programs aren’t going away: if we didn’t do it, there’d be government regulations in one form or another. It allows us to create our own destiny.

ASG: How does implementation of phase II affect industry stakeholders?

It gives farmers purchasing commercially treated seed an assurance that as of 2021 all facilities across the country, and currently the ones treating the noted commodities, adhere to an industry level of best practice. Farmers benefit from consistent, high-performing products, which in turn protects their investments.

Regulators benefit because their needs are being heard. And if when we act on those needs we’re doing it in a manner that is implementable and reasonable, they’re happy.

From the standpoint of commercial seed treatment operators, after they’ve gone through the process, I believe everyone will feel their operations were improved. Registrants will have an assurance their products are being used correctly from an environmental, health and safety aspect. Also, that their products are going to perform in the field — and for them that’s the holy grail.

The importance of treating seed

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Whether to seed treat or not is a question that often comes up in the spring. Seed treatment should be looked at as an insurance policy to protect against less-than-ideal growing conditions in the spring.

If a producer has high germinating, vigorous seed planted into warm, moist soil, the crop will germinate quickly and be off to a good start. However, spring often comes in spurts between winter and summer, and using treated seed can help to avoid potential problems.

“Soils warm up only to cool off. Long periods of cool, damp conditions hovering around 5 to 6 C gives plenty of chances for root rots to take hold and kill off the plant,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Early plant and root development is a crucial contributor to the overall yield a plant will deliver in the fall. As the roots go, so do the shoots.”

There are other factors besides weather that can increase the risk of seedling losses. Smuts, bunts, and fusarium are seed-borne diseases, and even low levels on untreated seed can, under the right conditions, take over and cause significant yield loss in the crop.

“Without treatment and with a series of damp cool years, small pockets of infection can spread and become a field-wide disaster,” says Brook. “Treating your seed with fungicide kills off those potential damaging organisms and can protect the seed in the soil for up to two weeks. This protection will also extend to some of the common root diseases that attack the crop at the germination stage such as common root rot and seedling blights. Some seed treatments also have insecticides incorporated to prevent early feeding by insects on the seedlings. Seed treatment for flea beetle in canola is standard and treatment for wireworm in cereals is becoming more common.”

Other farming practices that increase the risk of seedling losses include slow soil warming, limited crop rotation and seed quality. “The majority of seeding done is now zero or minimum till. This is good in so many ways but it also slows soil warming in the spring. Plentiful crop residues insulate the soil surface and keep soils cooler and moister, ideal for slowing down germination and emergence and giving fungi a chance to affect the seedling.”

Another big risk factor, says Brook, is crop rotations with little variety. “A lot of central and northern Alberta producers have moved to a canola-wheat or canola–barley crop rotation. Many diseases will over-winter on crop residues left on the soil surface and provide a primary source of infection for surrounding, susceptible crops for the next year. Reducing the spore source requires burial, which is not done with zero tillage. Blackleg on canola is a good example. Infectious spores are produced on the stubble for two to three years after the crop is harvested. Highest spore production occurs two years after the crop which is a problem with a wheat-canola rotation. Recent surveys of canola stubble show increasing levels of blackleg in the canola. Crop yield losses are also starting to increase as well.”

Seed treatments with insecticide in them are essential for a couple of crops. “As canola is a very small seed and the seedlings take some time to get established and begin to grow, insecticide treatment is required to protect the seedlings from flea beetles. All hybrid canola sold in Alberta is treated with an insecticide because flea beetles are endemic in the province. As well, peas are susceptible to pea leaf weevil, which is expanding through all of central Alberta. Larval feeding on pea nodules in the roots can lead to nitrogen deficiencies and reduced yields. In areas with high pea leaf weevil populations or signs of heavy feeding in previous years, seed treatment for the weevils is a matter of course. Seed treatment for pea leaf weevil is the only effective way to reduce damage from these pests.”

Another factor to consider when applying seed treatment is the application method. “Ideally, you want every seed to be adequately covered by the seed treatment. Some methods are better than others at getting it on each seed. Drip and gravity feed applicators are not good methods for application as they don’t allow for accurate volume control or seed coverage. To improve coverage, you need an even volume of fungicide being applied over the whole stream of seed as it travels up the auger. Use an applicator tip with a known volume output and pressure.”

Modern seed treatments have lower application rates with less physical product being used, notes Brook. “Even if the seed doesn’t have as much colouring, the fungicides are still effective if applied properly. This makes seed treating calibration even more important, as a visual inspection of the seed is no guarantee of good coverage.”

Seed treatment should never be used to replace good seed. Poor, diseased, low germinating seed will still be poor, diseased, low germinating seed with or without treatment. It is insurance and protection, and not a replacement, for good seed quality.

“As with any insurance, seed treatment is a way of reducing the risk to the crop at the important, early stages of growth and establishment. With the uncertain nature of weather in the spring and tight crop rotations, seed treatment can be way of ensuring a healthy, vigorous crop stand, or you can seed into warm, moist, soil. It’s all a matter of timing.”

New Lumisena fungicide seed treatment receives PMRA registration

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Plants wilting among healthy plants is often a symptom of Phytophthora.

Growers will soon have a powerful new tool to protect against Phytophthora root rot and downy mildew. Corteva Agriscience, agriculture division of DowDuPont, today announced that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) in Canada has granted approval for the registration of Lumisena fungicide seed treatment.

“Lumisena is designed to help soybean growers get their crop off to a strong start, maximize early-season growth and capture higher yield potential,” said Travis Schoonbaert, category leader, Seed Applied Technology at Corteva Agriscience. “Lumisena helps maximize yield potential in a variety of growing environments through enhanced vigour and emergence and is an ideal complement to any soybean variety.”

Lumisena provides best-in-class protection against Phytophthora root rot, the leading soybean disease in North America. Lumisena moves within the plant to protect against multiple stages of the Phytophthora pathogen’s life cycle through preventative, curative, eradicative and antisporulant activity. In multiyear, on-farm trials, Lumisena was shown to significantly improve soybean stands and plant health under Phytophthora pressure. Growers can expect Lumisena to be commercially available at 2019 planting timing.

Lumiderm insecticide seed treatment now registered for soybeans

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Soybean aphids.

The seed treatment technology that enhanced insect control in canola will soon be available to soybean growers.

Corteva Agriscience, agriculture division of DowDuPont, announced the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) in Canada has granted approval for the registration of Lumiderm insecticide seed treatment for soybeans for control of bean leaf beetle and soybean aphid. Lumiderm will be commercially available for 2019 spring planting.

“Bean leaf beetle and soybean aphid are both economically significant pests of soybean, and growers have been looking for new tools to manage them,” said Travis Schoonbaert, category leader, Seed Applied Technology at Corteva Agriscience. “Lumiderm provides effective, reliable control of soybean aphid and bean leaf beetle. Overall, Lumiderm offers a higher level of performance that will give growers confidence at planting time and peace of mind during the early part of the growing season.”

Lumiderm seed treatment provides soybean seedlings with extended protection against bean leaf beetle and soybean aphid. Protecting vulnerable seedlings from these two damaging insects leads to more uniform and healthier plant stands, allowing the crop to achieve its maximum yield potential at harvest. Lumiderm contains a unique Group 28 insecticide that helps growers manage the threat of resistance and has a favourable environmental profile.

Importing Pesticide-Treated Seeds

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Health Canada has provided information to help importers of seed pre-treated with pesticides. Specifically, Health Canada is helping importers understand their responsibilities under the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) and Regulations (PCPR).

Seeds that are pre-treated with pesticides are considered pest control products under the PCPA and are illegal to import unless both the a) active ingredient and b) seed treatment product are registered in Canada for the purpose of treating the seed.

Because of this, importers of pesticide-treated seeds must provide an import declaration that contains:

  1. The name of the pest control product,
  2. The name of the active ingredient, and
  3. The amount of seed being imported.

This declaration can be provided in the Goods Description field of the “eManifest “system used by the Canadian Border Services Agency until their newer Integrated Import Declaration / Single Window  (IID/SW) system is implemented in the spring of 2018.

The importer is also responsible for ensuring that all imported pesticide-treated seed is labelled properly, whether it be bagged or in bulk shipments, and that the imported seed is only treated with the pesticides included in the declaration.

If an importer has questions about their obligations under the PCPA, they can contact PMRA’s Pest Management Information Service (E-mail: [email protected], Telephone: 613-736-3799) or their local Regional Pesticide Officer.

Source: CSGA

Recover PO4 Inoculant Improves Phosphorus Fertility Management

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BrettYoung Seeds Limited announces the launch of Recover PO4 phosphate solubilizing inoculant for Canada.  The active ingredient in Recover PO4, Penicillium bilaii, is the same proven phosphorus fertilizer efficiency technology that thousands of Canadian farmers have used in products like TagTeam and JumpStart.

Used as part of an overall phosphorus fertility program, Recover PO4 improves access to and makes more efficient use of phosphorus from both fertilizer and soil sources.

“The introduction of Recover PO4 fits with our core strategy of providing innovative seed and seed related products to help farmers grow in every way,” says Eric Gregory, marketing director of BrettYoung Seeds in Winnipeg, Man. “Recover PO4 strongly complements our portfolio of world-class crop input solutions including BrettYoung brand canola and forage seed and Elite brand corn and soybean seed.”

Recover PO4 is being introduced in a convenient liquid formulation as compared to other Penicillium bilaii products, allowing commercial applicators and farmers to easily apply with their everyday seed-treating practices without the need to solubilize with water first.  It is registered on alfalfa, canola, chickpeas, corn, dry beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, and spring and winter wheat.

“The convenient liquid formulation will allow more farmers to utilize this proven technology to grow bigger, healthier crops,” says Gregory.

A New Day in Dust Reduction

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As farmers prepare for spring planting, a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air.

What doesn’t hang in the air? Dust-off from seed treatments.

With an increased focus on pollinator health, seed and seed treatment providers, equipment manufacturers and other industry representatives continue to work together to reduce the amount of dust-off that occurs when handling treated seed.

“Equipment manufacturers like John Deere and crop input companies like Syngenta need to collaborate to meet farmers’ evolving needs,” says Nick Tindall, senior director of government and industry relations for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

“The whole industry plays an important role when it comes to controlling dust-off,” adds Ravi Ramachandran, head of the Syngenta North America Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minnesota.

The goal is efficiency and safety for both farmers and pollinators.

“Seed treatments pose a minimal risk to pollinators if handled correctly and if stewardship practices are followed. Reducing dust-off is very important not only for the environment but also for product efficacy and minimizing operator exposure,” says Sandy Baker, seedcare application lead, Syngenta.

Dust Levels

Seed applied technologies are a crucial pest management tool in modern agriculture and it’s important to have perspective on the actual amount of chemical-related dust that occurs during planting.

“We do follow the European Seed Association established dust-off limits for the main crops as part of our quality assurance program. These limits can be as low as 0.75 grams dust per 100,000 seeds,” says Baker.

Outsiders may envision clouds of chemicals when thinking about dust off, but that’s not accurate.

“The actual amount of dust off we’re talking about is quite small. I’ve seen anti-pesticide activists use videos showing a planter in action and highlight clouds of dust. However, those clouds are plain dirt kicked up by tires and don’t have active ingredients in them,” Tindall says.

Ravi Ramachandran

In reality, seed treatments are used at very low rates, and in certain crops help eliminate an early foliar insecticide application, resulting in both environmental and economic benefits.

“By investing in formulation innovation and with the expertise from the application specialists at the Seedcare Institute, we are able to deliver high performing, safer to handle products for our growers. Less dust-off means the correct dose of product on the seed and reduced operator exposure,” Ramachandran says.

It also means less potential impact to nearby pollinators, and while it’s always important to communicate planting activities with beekeepers, reducing dust-off is another safeguard toward honey bee health.

Factors to Consider

The level of dust that can be generated is linked to the quality of seed treatment products used, how the treatment is applied and the formulation engineering, as well as the level of seed cleaning during processing, moisture level of seeds before treating, and even the environmental conditions at treating.

“At the Seedcare Institute, we develop customized treatment recipes that are tested and calibrated to work across all climatic conditions and through various seed treating equipment,” Ramachandran says.

Once the seed is effectively treated, the equipment itself comes into play.

“We focus on addressing the issue where we have the ability to impact it. That is when the planter is in operation. This is why the industry came together to create an ISO standard to control fugitive dust,” Tindall says.

He believes the ISO standard to control fugitive dust is an impressive example of the industry taking voluntary, proactive steps to address an environmental concern.

“The process involved several manufacturers from across the globe. Our members spent time and resources to change the way they do things to follow the new standard. These adjustments were in place for the 2017 planting season and will have an even greater effect for this year’s planting season,” Tindall says.

Improvements

“We’ve been working with the seed and crop protection companies on this topic since 2009 in a variety of ways,” says Tindall. “In addition to the sharing of information and expertise, equipment manufacturers helped in the development of an alternative fluency agent to replace talc and graphite by testing it in the lab and during field trials to ensure it was compatible with existing equipment technologies.”

Baker and Ramachandran agree the progress has been significant.

Another approach to reducing dust-off from treated seeds is by incorporating dust reducing agents like polymers into the slurry mix when treating seeds.

“At the Seedcare Institute, we test and work with the polymer industry to make sure the best products are used in treatment recipes,” Ramachandran says.

Many times, treated seeds actually release less dust-off compared to untreated seeds due to the binding characteristics of the polymers used in the recipes.

Extensive research is carried out to select a specific polymer for a given crop and treatment recipe. “Recent industry innovations include development of engineered seed lubricants that not only reduce dust off from treated seeds by up to 90 per cent, but are also applied at a fraction of the traditional lubricant rates. Traditional lubricants like talc and talc-graphite blends are used up to one cup per unit while the new synthetic lubricants are recommended at one or two teaspoons per unit,” Baker says.

Precision Planting

On the equipment side, improvements are focused on what happens to any amount of dust as seed flows through the planter while it’s in the field.

Nick Tindall

“For example, the ISO standard states that the fan exhaust should be half a metre off the ground when in planting position, and it also addresses air speed,” Tindall says.

The potential for dust-off comes from the actual process of planting seed with vacuum metre systems, in which the planters use pressure differential to drive seeds to the ground. This is where the potential impact to nearby pollinators has been most scrutinized.

However, it doesn’t mean there will be dust-off issues at this point in the process.

“That only happens if you have non-optimized recipes, low quality formulations and poorly cleaned seeds during processing, as well as the lack of seed lubricants during planting to reduce friction on the seeds surface,” Ramachandran says.

It is also important to use the right dose of seed lubricants for planting.

“Overuse of seed lubricants could result in increased dust during planting. Applying at the manufacturer recommended rates will result in not only good seed singulation but also minimal dust-off at planting,” Baker says.

There are other benefits to applying products at the recommended rates, too, like a cost savings.

“Farmers aren’t in the habit of wasting money on inputs. No one benefits when active ingredients miss their mark,” Tindall says. “Beyond economic concerns, seed treatments represent the most environmentally friendly way to use crop protection products, because their application is so finely targeted.”

It’s about sustainability.

“Our customers care a great deal about the health of their ecosystems, as do we. After all, all of our livelihoods depend on it. Doing our part to safeguard pollinator health is a key part of that and a responsibility we take seriously,” Tindall says.

Treated Seed Offers Insurance Against Threats

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As the technology and the application of seed treatments is becoming more effective, growers are turning to treated seed to give their crop a fighting chance against seed and soil-borne disease and insects. Early seeding is becoming more common in Alberta, however seeding into cold soils can be risky – the seed sits in the soil longer and is vulnerable to threats below the ground. To combat that, seed treatments are helping growers start their season off right.

“Treating seed is a lot like insurance,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Ideally, you’d be seeding into warm, moist soils for rapid emergence. But that’s the ideal and then there’s the reality. Early spring weather is unpredictable and growers have a lot of acres to cover. Seed treatments allow growers to seed when it works best for them without the negative impact early seeding can have on their crop.”

Brook says that ideally, soil temperatures would be a minimum of five degrees before seeding begins; however, today many growers attempt to seed as soon as the soil has defrosted. The general rule is the earlier a crop is seeded, the greater the yield potential. But that’s only true if it emerges strong and healthy. By keeping disease and insects at bay, seed treatments help offset the risks of a delayed emergence.

Some crops are treated more than others. Canola is treated with combination products that contain both fungicides and insecticides to combat soil-borne diseases as well as protection from flea beetle damage. For cereal growers, the use of seed treatments is becoming more of a requirement, as diseases such as smut, bunt, damping off and root rot are increasing in incidence. And as there is a resurgence of wireworms in Alberta, seed treatment insecticides for cereals become more important. The available seed treatment insecticides put the wireworms in a coma-like state so they are unable to feed during the critical period of emergence.

Tight rotations with little cropping variation have meant an almost province-wide buildup of disease inoculum in the soil, meaning that every season has the potential for damaging disease, regardless of weather the previous season.

“Seed treatments offer security against early season threats, but they won’t provide long-term protection,” says Brook. “The seed treatment will help you achieve a good seedling, but you may still need to apply a foliar fungicide or insecticide if the conditions warrant it.”

Brook cautions that good agronomics are still a crucial component at seeding. “Seeding is risky, and growers are participating in even riskier behaviour by shortening their rotation and seeding really early. Seed treatments are a relatively low-cost insurance. It may not pay every year, but as our disease and insect pressure increases, it will pay more often than not.”

New Regulations Standardize Commercial Seed Treatment Processes

Advances in seed treatment technology has produced products that are applied at lower rates for a reduced impact on the environment, coupled with the development of products with several modes of action to offer higher levels of crop protection. While some growers treat seed on-farm, much of the seed treated in Alberta is done by a commercial seed treater.

As commercial application of seed treatments becomes more commonplace, the rules for how certain seed treatments are transported, stored and applied have evolved. As of January 2018, commercial seed treaters that apply designated seed treatment products will be required to follow the standards under the Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards as developed by CropLife Canada in co-operation with industry and government groups. Under these standards, designated seed treatment products destined for commercial use on corn, canola and soybeans can only be handled by accredited facilities.

“Today, commercial treaters [that are handling certain products] have a set of industry standards that were developed to ensure [certain] seed treatment products are handled and stored safely,” says Russel Hurst, vice-president, Sustainability and Stewardship with CropLife Canada. “Commercial storage and handling facilities [that are handling restricted products] have to follow a set of practices that are checked every two years by a third-party auditor to ensure compliance.”

The set of uniform health and safety standards for the storage and handling of seed treated in Canada creates targeted solutions that contribute to improved safety and productivity. The standards were developed by a working group made up of members from industry, government and seed growers. While Alberta already has very high government requirements for commercial seed treatment facilities, these new standards were put in place to make sure everyone treating seed for commercial use is meeting or reaching these goals at a national level.

In Alberta, commercial seed treaters include seed treatment companies, agricultural retail facilities, seed growers who treat commercial seed and seed cleaning co-ops. The new standards include 76 protocols, 66 of which were already covered under existing government regulation, and 10 additional industry best management practices.

“For the long-term sustainability of the seed treatment industry, we needed to be involved in developing these standards in order to create a vibrant industry going forward,” says Hurst. “If we didn’t come up with these guidelines we risked having standards imposed on us that weren’t necessarily in the best interests of the industry.”

Effective January 2018, only seed treatment operations that have successfully completed an accredited seed treatment operations standards audit will be able to receive certain seed treatments for application on seed. However, not all seed treatments are on this designated list; only products that are deemed to pose elevated risk to people or the environment are placed on this “restricted-use” list.

“This no-ship policy is similar to what other sectors of the crop input industry have developed,” says Hurst. “The fertilizer industry, for example, has these types of protocols in place so that their products are treated with care. We aren’t necessarily saying anyone is doing anything wrong, we are just making sure we are all reaching toward the same standards.”

Hurst says there can be a fine line between rigorous and onerous standards, but he says the consultation process has been ongoing since 2009 and he thinks the standards developed today are obtainable by Alberta’s commercial seed treatment industry. While on-farm treaters are not subject to the same standards, they still are expected to follow the product label and use good management practices when treating their seed.

“These guidelines will likely be updated every five years unless a new regulation or new product is put in place that requires us to adjust our protocols,” says Hurst. “Growers want to protect their seed and their crop, and new products are always being added to our list of designated seed treatments. Our standards will change as products and growers’ use of them continues to evolve.”

New limits to clothianidin and thiamethoxam use

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(Photo: Janet Kanters)

Health Canada announced new mitigation measures today on the neonicotinoids​ clothianidin and thiamethoxam, pesticides which are sold as seed treatment or sprays to protect agricultural crops from various insects.

A statement from the Grain Growers of Canada said modern grain farmers “utilize a diverse and innovative toolbox of crop protection products, including neonicotinoids.”

The statement says clothianidin and thiamethoxam “are not expected to affect bees,” when used as a seed treatment — a view many environmental organizations dispute.

READ the CBC story

The PMRA is updating the pollinator risk assessment for imidacloprid based on additional data from the registrant, additional literature that has recently been published, and the comments that were received during the public consultation period for the preliminary assessment (REV2016-05, Re-evaluation of Imidacloprid – Preliminary Pollinator Assessment). The PMRA expects to publish a proposed decision regarding imidacloprid pollinator safety in March 2018.

Read more on the proposed clothianidin and thiamethoxam re-evaluation decisions:

 

Importance of treating seed

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Whether to seed treat or not is a question that often comes up in the spring.

According to Harry Brook, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, seed treatment should be looked at as an insurance policy to protect against less-than-ideal growing conditions in the spring.

If a producer has high germinating, vigorous seed planted into warm, moist soil, the crop will germinate quickly and be off to a good start. However, spring often comes in spurts between winter and summer, and using treated seed can help to avoid potential problems.

“Soils warm up only to cool off. Long periods of cool, damp conditions hovering around 5 – 6 C gives plenty of chances for root rots to take hold and kill off the plant,” says Brook. “Early plant and root development is a crucial contributor to the overall yield a plant will deliver in the fall. As the roots go, so do the shoots.”

There are other factors besides weather that can increase the risk of seedling losses. Smuts, bunts and Fusarium are seed-borne diseases, and even low levels on untreated seed can, under the right conditions, take over and cause significant yield loss in the crop.

“Without treatment and with a series of damp cool years, small pockets of infection can spread and become a field-wide disaster,” says Brook. “Treating your seed with fungicide kills off those potential damaging organisms and can protect the seed in the soil for up to two weeks. This protection will also extend to some of the common root diseases that attack the crop at the germination stage such as common root rot and seedling blights. Some seed treatments also have insecticides incorporated to prevent early feeding by insects on the seedlings. Seed treatment for flea beetle in canola is standard and treatment for wireworm in cereals is becoming more common.”

Other farming practices that increase the risk of seedling losses include slow soil warming, limited crop rotation and seed quality. “The majority of seeding done is now zero or minimum till. This is good in so many ways but it also slows soil warming in the spring. Plentiful crop residues insulate the soil surface and keep soils cooler and moister, ideal for slowing down germination and emergence and giving fungi a chance to affect the seedling.”

Another big risk factor, says Brook, is crop rotations with little variety. “A lot of central and northern Alberta producers have moved to a canola-wheat or canola-barley crop rotation. Many diseases will overwinter on crop residues left on the soil surface and provide a primary source of infection for surrounding, susceptible crops for the next year. Reducing the spore source requires burial, which is not done with zero tillage. Blackleg on canola is a good example: infectious spores are produced on the stubble for two to three years after the crop is harvested. Highest spore production occurs two years after the crop which is a problem with a wheat-canola rotation. Recent surveys of canola stubble show increasing levels of blackleg in the canola. Crop yield losses are also starting to increase as well.”

Seed treatments with insecticide in them are essential for a couple of crops. “As canola is a very small seed and the seedlings take some time to get established and begin to grow, insecticide treatment is required to protect the seedlings from flea beetles. All hybrid canola sold in Alberta is treated with an insecticide because flea beetles are endemic in the province. As well, peas are susceptible to pea leaf weevil, which is expanding through all of central Alberta. Larval feeding on pea nodules in the roots can lead to nitrogen deficiencies and reduced yields. In areas with high pea leaf weevil populations or signs of heavy feeding in previous years, seed treatment for the weevils is a matter of course. Seed treatment for pea leaf weevil is the only effective way to reduce damage from these pests.”

Another factor to consider when applying seed treatment is the application method. “Ideally, you want every seed to be adequately covered by the seed treatment. Some methods are better than others at getting it on each seed. Drip and gravity feed applicators are not good methods for application as they don’t allow for accurate volume control or seed coverage. To improve coverage, you need an even volume of fungicide being applied over the whole stream of seed as it travels up the auger. Use an applicator tip with a known volume output and pressure.”

Modern seed treatments have lower application rates with less physical product being used, notes Brook. “Even if the seed doesn’t have as much colouring, the fungicides are still effective if applied properly. This makes seed treating calibration even more important, as a visual inspection of the seed is no guarantee of good coverage.”

Seed treatment should never be used to replace good seed. Poor, diseased, low germinating seed will still be poor, diseased, low germinating seed with or without treatment. It is insurance and protection, and not a replacement, for good seed quality.

“As with any insurance, seed treatment is a way of reducing the risk to the crop at the important, early stages of growth and establishment. With the uncertain nature of weather in the spring and tight crop rotations, seed treatment can be way of ensuring a healthy, vigorous crop stand, or you can seed into warm, moist, soil. It’s all a matter of timing.”