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Technology increases germination rate

Weed out poor performing seed.


October 6, 2008
By Bernard Tobin

Weed out poor performing seed.

Germination rate is a key factor in determining seeding rate. If a corn grower is shooting for a 28,000 plants per acre stand, they will need to plant several thousand more seeds per acre to compensate for seed germination rates that normally fall between 90 to 95 percent.

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The ScanMaster II employed at Hyland uses infrared technology to detect seed defects and ensure that only the most vigorous seeds end up in the bag.

Typically, the small percentage of seed that fails to germinate is strongly related to kernel damage undetectable by traditional seed industry cleaning and gravity systems designed to identify and discard these duds. But in a world of technology, seed companies have more high-tech machinery to ensure that the hybrids growers plant this spring pop up quickly and produce a uniform stand.

Hyland Seeds is one company that has taken steps to increase the seed quality assurance it offers corn growers. In December 2007, Hyland installed electric eye technology at its Blenheim, Ontario, seed plant to help it better detect the tiniest of seed quality issues, from chipped kernels and insect damage to black spots and discolouration.

The ScanMaster II employed at Hyland is produced by Houston based Satake USA. It uses multiple high resolution cameras that view the corn seed from front and back as well as infrared technology to detect seed defects. It is the first time the machine has been used on corn in Canada.

“The traditional methods of cleaning and sorting seed do a good job, but this technology raises the bar when it comes to ensuring quality,” says Hyland Seed’s production plant manager, Tom Hoy. He notes that the ScanMaster II has helped increase germination rates for Hyland hybrids by as much as five percent. Better germination means better seed, says Hoy. “It allows growers to reduce seeding costs by fine-tuning their rates. It also ensures that only the most
vigorous seeds end up in the bag and more poor performers are weeded out before they reach the planter.”

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs corn specialist, Greg Stewart says growers will benefit if seed companies could identify and eliminate seed that may germinate but produce a lower quality, under achieving seedling. “Late emergers, whether they be the result of poor seed quality or seeding or tillage errors, can have a significant impact on yield,” says Stewart, who cites University of Guelph research conducted by Bill Deen.

“It’s a plus to have poor performers out of the bag. The research showed that when we have seed emerge up to 10 days or two weeks late, the yield hit was 10 bushels per acre,” says Stewart, who adds that a poor seedling has five times the impact on yield compared to a planter skip or double. “If there’s a gap, the plant is working with greater resources provided by more space. However, if the plant is there, but just delayed, it does not allow the neighbouring plant to use those resources and compensate, and yield is generally dragged down,” he says.

As corn travels through the ScanMaster II, the seeds are continually assessed for breaks, insect damage, discolouration and foreign material. Three stainless steel input hoppers are used to channel the corn through the scanning process. When a defective corn kernel is identified, a burst of compressed air is used to shoot the
kernel into another hopper where it is assessed for a second time. If the seed fails the second test, it is propelled into a third hopper where it is scanned a final time and discarded. The machine comes complete with light indicators that flash to indicate when seeds are discarded and a digital control panel that can be programmed to detect colour differences and spots as small as one to two microns. By comparison, a human hair is 40 to 120 microns in diameter.

“This technology provides a win-win for growers and the company,” says Hoy. “We feel it’s important to invest in this type of technology so we can provide the highest quality of uniform corn seed for our customers. It also saves a lot of good seed that can be lost in the traditional sorting process. That makes a company like Hyland more efficient and more competitive.”