Getting seed off to the best start possible is key to maximizing yield. So, when making decisions about cereal seed, growers should consider all options available with both farm-saved and Certified seed. While using only farm-saved is common practice on the Prairies, ideally a combination of both farm-saved and Certified will result in getting the best bang for your buck.
Farm-saved seed should be tested for germination, fusarium and smut, at a minimum. I recommend a full fungal scan and vigour test as well. The fungal scan can provide information about disease pressure on the seed as well as an indication of what fungal problems may exist on-farm, while the vigour test can be used to determine the storage longevity of seed. The larger the spread between the germination and the vigour, the larger the risk.
Ideally, farm-saved seed should be tested right after harvest and again before spring seeding. The first test determines the seed’s initial quality, and the second test would provide assurance the seed is still in good condition for seeding.
On the Prairies, we often begin seeding our cereal crops in less than ideal conditions. Using a seed treatment which protects your seed from early season disease is critical for early seedling vigour. It’s important to note not all seed treatments are considered equal. In particular, coverage is critical when treating seeds — I recommend growers invest in the latest seed treatment technology or have their seed treated by a third party.
How important are genetics when choosing the best seed? We know most growers are very quick to adopt new canola varieties but slower to do so with cereals. The increased pressure from cereal diseases such as fusarium should encourage growers to be seeking out the newest varieties. At the end of the day, I feel it’s important to try new Certified seed varieties to understand how they perform on your own farm. Talk to the retailers, look at the seed guide that’s in print or online at seed.ab.ca, and look at variety trial data. Improvements on disease resistance and standability, as well as yield, are always worth considering.
While farm-saved seed has a place, Certified seed – in a greater proportion on the farm or more frequently on the farm – can increase overall productivity. Not maybe year in year out, but research has shown that more profitable growers tend to use more Certified cereal seed on their farm.
Overall, getting the best start for your seed is all about a holistic approach to management. This includes using the best seed available and understanding its genetic potential in addition to its seed quality. Use a high-quality seed treatment and fertilize to avoid early season deficiencies. Complete a thousand kernel weight (TKW) calculation to ensure a target plant stand is established and control early weed pressure. And always taking opportunities to test new varieties.