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Seed treatments: think before you buy

Seed treatments are a great option for farmers. Know what seed treatments are available and what you need. Don't be afraid to ask questions.


I’ve been surprised to find growers don’t always know what treatments are coming on their seed. Seed treatments are not new, but the complexity of seed treatments being used across multiple crops for the control of insects, diseases and nematodes is a relatively new phenomenon.

Seed treatment costs may vary from $3 to $25 per acre depending upon the crops and treatment options. It is worth your time to know what you are getting for your dollar.

Many seed treatments are sold in packages that include fungicidal, insecticidal and nematicidal components. Besides protection from pests, some seed treatment components are touted has having direct effects on plant health.

In some cases, such as with corn, it is virtually impossible to get seed without a base fungicide and insecticide package. In other cases, seed can be treated “downstream” by local distributors.

The reliance on seed treatments is only likely to increase.

Escalating seed costs have forced lower seeding rates and increased the need to protect the seeds we plant. Seed treatments are desired in the marketplace because they are easy to use and relatively safe to handle. Many of these seed treatments are relatively new pesticides with good safety profiles. They are also relatively profitable for manufacturers compared with traditional treatments. 

Finally, there is public and legislated pressure to remove older, in-furrow pesticides in favor of new seed treatments being used at lower rates. The planned withdrawal of Temik is a good example of this.

The good news is that many of the seed treatments we currently use have documented value in preventing crop losses.  Products like Cruiser (thiamethoxam) and Gaucho (imidacloprid) have a long enough history of use in cotton that we understand the strengths and weaknesses.  The same is true for Poncho (clothianidin) and Cruiser in corn. Recent testing of insecticide seed treatments in soybean throughout the Midsouth has documented their potential value.

In some regions, at least for some crops, there has been near complete adoption of seed treatments over in-furrow treatments. For example, fungicide and insecticide seed treatments in cotton have almost completely displaced the use of in-furrow sprays and granular pesticides in the Mid-South.

The bad news is that we are losing options. As with Temik, alternative treatments are being removed from the market in favor of seed treatments that may not always provide the same level of plant protection. Some seed companies have vertically integrated or partnered with seed treatment providers, and once optional seed treatments are sometimes becoming standard if not mandatory.

Standard seed treatments are not necessarily the optimal rates across all geographies.

Furthermore, new seed treatments can reach the market before they are adequately and independently evaluated to determine if and how much value they provide. There are several recent examples of nematicidal seed treatments in corn, soybean and cotton that have not been fully evaluated, yet they are already being aggressively marketed.

Finally, add-on active ingredients are sometimes being included on seed as much for brand protection and differentiation than for need.

So what is a grower to do? Ask questions and stay informed about what treatments come standard on the seed you order.

Is there a base fungicide or insecticide? 

What optional seed treatments can be requested?

Just as importantly, ask about rates and costs to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Be cynical of new and untested treatments, and ask for help.

Extension personnel throughout the Mid-South can help answer your questions about the need and potential value of seed treatments.

Growers should have reasonable expectations. New seed treatments are not likely to provide miraculous increases in yield. Many existing insecticide and fungicide treatments already provide substantial protection against yield loss. There may not always be much room for improvement above these current options.

Evaluate treatment options by looking for independent sources of data and your own on-farm testing.

Finally, fight for you right to choose seed treatments that fit your needs, and reward seed companies that provide you with these options.

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