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.”

Blue Book Now Available

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One of the most widely requested publications from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF), the Crop Protection book, also known as the “Blue Book” in industry circles, is now available for 2017.

“Revised annually, the Blue Book includes the most up-to-date information around crop protection,” says Mark Cutts, crop specialist, AF. “An important part of the annual update includes newly registered pesticide products. This year’s edition includes new herbicides, insecticides, seed treatments and foliar fungicides. In addition to including new products, previously registered products are updated. Significant changes in some products, crops covered and usage instructions give producers more options than ever.”

For 2017, new herbicide registrations include pre-seed products. “These herbicides are registered for use ahead of seeding wheat, and there is a new pre-seed product registered for use ahead of canola,” says Cutts. “Other new herbicide products are registered for in-crop use for a variety of crop types.”

A number of new fungicides have been registered for use in 2017. New foliar fungicides are available for use on canola, cereal crops and potatoes. Newly registered seed treatments are available for use on pulse crops, oilseed crops and potatoes. One new insecticide will be available in 2017. It is registered on a variety of crops including pulse and oilseed crops.

“When using pesticides, it’s important to be aware of pesticide resistance,” says Cutts. “It’s recommended that pesticide products be selected based on chemical group and active ingredient. Purchasing pesticides products based on registered product names could lead to repeated use of a chemical group and increase the risk of developing pesticide resistance. All pesticide products presented in the Blue Book have their chemical group and active ingredient listed. By using this information, the risk of developing pesticide resistance can be reduced.”

Hard copies of Crop Protection 2017 are available for $12 from AF’s website. It is also available as a free downloadable pdf.

Generate and Commence for wheat now registered in Canada

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has granted registration in Canada for Generate for crops and Commence for wheat seed treatment. Both products will be available to Canadian farmers for the 2017 growing season.

According to a news release from Agnition, the company that manufactures both products, Generate utilizes patented Microbial Catalyst technology to simulate microbes in the soil to increase nutrient uptake, “optimizing crop growth and yields. Highly compatible and flexible to fit the farmer’s needs, Generate can be applied in-furrow, foliar or side-dress on corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and sugar beets.”

The company states Commence for wheat is an offensive seed treatment. It simulates the environment around the seed resulting in “superior germination and early plant vigour. Microbial Catalyst technology and ProCoat encapsulation technology in Commence for wheat create a microenvironment where seed can thrive.” Commence for wheat is compatible with other seed treatments and works as an add-on or stand-alone product.

“Through Generate and Commence for wheat, Agnition helps farmers produce more productive plants and soils for healthier more profitable farms,” said Agnition General Manager Cal Ludeman in the news release. “Our entry into Canada will begin a long-term relationship of providing customer-focused solutions that allow the farmer to succeed.”

Generate and Commence for wheat are registered in compliance with the CFIA Fertilizer Safety Section (FSS) Fertilizers Act and Regulations, Registration Number 2016114A and 2016115A.

For more information about Generate and Commence for wheat, visit Agnition.com and locate your local Agnition dealer.

Seed Treatment Education

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With the technology available today, farmers are increasing their production. Seed treatments are among the newest technologies available — by helping seed get the best possible start, they are helping farmers grow more from less.

There are several best practices producers can follow to get good yields — proper crop rotations, good disease and insect management, seeding in ideal conditions and consistent seeding depth. However, it’s easy to fall short on one or more of these each growing season, and that is where seed treatments come in.

“Seed treatments should be considered an insurance policy. If you have ideal conditions at seeding, then the seed treatments may not pay. However, most springs do not provide those ideal conditions,” says Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

A seed treatment is a chemical or biological substance or physical process applied to seeds or seedlings to protect against insects, seed and soil-borne diseases and certain weather conditions such as frost, drought or flooding. By protecting the seed from early-season stressors, seed treatments help seeds reach their full genetic potential.

The primary role of any cereal seed treatment is to improve germination and emergence, and get young seedlings established through to the two- to four-leaf stage. At that point, the plants should have developed root and stem structures strong enough to outgrow further seedling disease attack.

Brook says seed treatments protect the seed from pathogens in the soil for about two weeks and then their efficacy declines. “Cool, wet, slow springs should give you a benefit using seed treatments,” he says.

Product Pipeline

A wide variety of seed treatments are currently available, and these products have come a long way in recent years. Some of the newest products boast significantly lower application rates than older products, operate via multiple modes of action to control more diseases and/or insects, and are available in ready-to-apply formulations.

“Since we released our first seed treatment in 1991, the needs of growers have changed a lot with continuous cropping and new crop rotations,” says Ted Labun, seed treatment specialist for Syngenta Crop Protection Canada. “We kept adding to our first solution, but now we’ve taken all those solutions and put them into one solution that’s easy to apply.”

Labun is referring to Syngenta’s new Vibrance Quattro seed treatment, which contains four fungicides in one product and comes in a ready-to-apply formulation. The company also offers Cruiser Vibrance Quattro which has the Cruiser insecticide for wireworm protection.

Seed-Treatment-Education-2

Both products can be applied by commercial seed treaters, but are also available in a convenient, pre-mix formulation that can be applied on-farm without the requirement of a closed system.

Bayer CropScience also launched two new seed treatments this year. Raxil PRO is a new cereal seed treatment that combines the power of three fungicides in an easy-to-apply micro-dispersion formulation. Raxil Pro Shield incorporates the systematic and contact disease protection from Raxil with the plant health benefits and wireworm protection of Stress Shield.

Bayer has also recently launched the SeedGrowth brand, which represents the company’s four segments of seed treatment expertise: products, equipment, services and coatings. “Through Bayer SeedGrowth, farmers get support beyond just seed treatments to the quality and life of their seed and crops,” says Derrick Rozdeba, manager, integrated communications for Bayer. In 2014, Bayer partnered with Ag Growth International (AGI) to co-design the STORM Seed Treater for computerized, self-adjusting/metered, in-yard seed treatment for cereals.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2014 Nufarm Agriculture was named the exclusive distributor of Valent Canada’s NipsIt seed treatments for on-farm use in Canadian markets.

“Seed treatments should be considered an insurance policy. If you have ideal conditions at seeding, then the seed treatments may not pay. However, most springs do not provide those ideal conditions.”

—Harry Brook

NipsIt INSIDE is an insecticide seed treatment containing the active ingredient clothianidin, offering Canadian wheat growers protection of key insects, including wireworms, through contact and super-systemic activity. According to the company, NipsIt INSIDE stays in the seed/root zone longer than other insecticide seed treatments due to its lower water solubility.

A second product, NipsIt SUITE, is an all-in-one seed treatment containing the fungicidal active ingredients metconazole and metalaxyl, and insecticidal active ingredient clothianidin. Metconazole is a new fungicide seed treatment which provides superior protection against key seed and seedling diseases incited by seed-borne and soil-borne fungal pathogens such as the bunt and smut fungi, seed rot and seedling diseases caused by fusarium and rhizoctonia, says the company.

Since releasing its Insure Cereal seed treatment in early 2013, BASF Canada has been reminding growers about the benefits of using seed treatments.“By using a seed treatment with plant health benefits, crops can get off to a good start in spring,” says Russell Trischuk, technical marketing specialist, functional crop care for BASF Canada. Through 2011 and 2012, BASF conducted an extensive trial program using Insure. In 30 trials for wheat, Insure-treated seed had a two-bushel increase over competitors. In barley, the increase was three bushels and in oat it was more than a four-bushel advantage for the Insure-treated seed. Insure is a ready-to-use seed treatment with three modes of action: pyraclostrobin, triticonazole and metalaxyl.

Application Options

No matter how good the product, it can only be effective if applied evenly and at the proper volume to all sides of each and every seed. While getting seed treated commercially might be more expensive than treating on-farm, the payoff from a job done right can be worth the extra cost.

Brook says producers should avoid drip and gravity-fed applications as they result in inconsistent and unreliable coverage. For best results, he recommends buying pre-treated, certified seed, or using a good on-farm seed treater.

“On farm application is convenient, but to maximize the effectiveness of the fungicide, it needs to be on every seed. Most on-farm applicators can’t do as good a job getting an even coating on the seed as a seed treater in the local seed plant,” he says. “Many producers use their local seed cleaning plant to apply the seed treatment because of this.”

“What is really important is that the quality of application is the best it can be. That is critical for field performance.”

—Ted Labun

According to Labun, Syngenta supports both commercially treated seed and on-farm application. “What is really important is that the quality of application is the best it can be. That is critical for field performance.”

Labun says the application method really depends on the crop. “For pulses and cereals we recommend both on-farm applications and commercial application, but canola is much more challenging to treat so we recommend growers only go through commercial treating for canola,” says Labun.

If a producer chooses to go the on-farm route, Labun says they have lots of support available to them. “We have five seed treatment specialists in the field that help with application best practices. Last year we held a clinic in Regina to train producers. We brought in five pieces of equipment, treated seed and talked about safety and proper equipment. We also hold grower meetings where we bring equipment in and do some training,” he says. “The quality of application is critical to see field performance; poor treatment isn’t going to get the return on investment that producers need.”

Julie McNabb