Top Crop Manager

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On-farm seed treatment technology

Help protect soils from the introduction of fusarium.

November 15, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

Times have changed in the on-farm seed treatment business. The new water-based
treatments are safer to handle and can be quickly applied on a just-in-time
basis for seeding.

In the past, on-farm seed treatments were applied to the seed months prior
to the season, but pre-treating is a poor fit with today's rapid turnover of
seed varieties. Many farmers have also wisely chosen not to store high-value
treated seed that can lose viability or become outmoded in one season.

A high-tech generation of efficient treatment systems and safer, more effective
products have superseded the early systems. Today, several companies such as
Gustafson manufacture on-farm treaters. Another one is Graham Seed Treating
Systems based in Olds, Alberta. Seed grower and retailer, Bob Graham began developing
his own treatment system in the 1980s. His company now manufactures two models
of on-farm seed treaters and a few models for commercial treatment applicators.


"Our idea was to make an on-farm treater that would be safer, faster and
more accurate," says Graham. "We developed the treaters internally
until we felt they were successfully improved. Some of the chemical companies
started promoting them, and other grower-retailers also started using them because
they were calibrated and relatively fast. They were the first systems that could
be used on a just-in-time basis."

Graham says they sell about 300 units a year of their bigger G3 system. "We
have about 1000 in operation on farms now with probably another 1000 starter
kits out there that can be upgraded to a G3." A third of their sales are
in the US.

The G3, mounted on an auger, can treat 25 bushels per minute. It is calibrated
for the treatment product and meters the flow onto seed inside the sealed unit.
That is a major improvement. "Treaters used to be really slow or really
bad," says Graham. "Producers didn't want to wait, especially as farms
got larger. Now, they can do it themselves or treat their seed with a custom
applicator who is using our system when they're ready to go to the field. They
never have to store treated grain."

With the new treatment systems, old safety issues such as exposure to pesticides
and contamination of clothing and equipment are resolved. The treated seed goes
straight into the nurse truck and is dry before it reaches the air-seeder. "This
prevents plugging and bridging in air-seeders, and highly variable application
rates," says Graham.

The improved systems handle the new water-based treatments that Graham says
"are much more benign to handle."

In Canada, three companies offer three water-based seed treatments for cereals:
Raxil, Charter and Dividend. However, Vitaflo remains the most widely used product
in the market. "Raxil, Charter and Dividend hit the market a few years
ago and continue to build market share beside the long-standing Vitaflo,"
says Grant Deveson, Bayer CropScience's seed treatment sales manager. "These
products are specifically for cereals. They offer a sharper control across a
range of disease pathogens and they're water-based. Oil-based treatments have
all but disappeared."

Seed treatments can help protect soils on the western prairies from the introduction
of fusarium. "A seed treatment can be used to prevent the spread of the
soilborne fusarium pathogen," says Deveson. "If you are in an area
where fusarium is present, a seed treatment protects the seed from the initial
infection and gets the plant off to a good start."

Investment protection
More farmers every year are choosing to treat seed in order to protect increasing
seed value and to lower the risk attached to crop investments. The value of
seed alone makes it critical that every seed germinates and is healthy.

"In the old days, you just overwhelmed the field mortality counts by seeding
a higher volume, but that's not a smart approach now," says Graham. "As
the chemistry and the seed become more expensive, it's poor value not to treat
properly. This has led to a greater emphasis on both seed protection and just-in-time

Producers who protect their crops by treating seed rather than using a post-emergence
spray save money in the long-run and get the crop off to a good start. Payback
on the investment comes very quickly, Graham adds. "If you're into irrigation,
or if you're in the Red River valley, the loss you take on 500 acres of untreated
seed is at the level of the investment. For dryland farming, seed treater systems
would be positive investments relative to alternatives at about 1500 acres of
treated seed."

Seed growers who stubble crop the same crop for several years can justify an
on-farm seed treater investment as their risk is higher.

"We see a lot of sharing of our treatment systems for a year or two,"
Graham says. "Then producers start bumping into each other because they
both want to use it at the same time. Eventually, justifying the economics of
seed treaters becomes really simple." -30-


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