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Selecting quality wheat seed critical with challenging year

Several regions of the state have endured weather conditions and diseases that are detrimental to wheat seed quality. This includes a late freeze in the Concho Valley and Rolling Plains, and extremely wet conditions in the Blacklands, Northeast Texas, and Rolling Plains that prevented or delayed harvest. These wet conditions have led to black point disease and pre-harvest sprouting in many areas of the state. Additionally, stinking smut (also called common bunt) and some loose smut have caused major problems in parts of the Panhandle.

Each of these factors (pre-harvest sprouting and diseases) affects wheat seed quality and should be considered before purchasing or planting seed this fall. Remember, good seed equates to better plant stands, better fall growth, and higher grain yields, especially when planting conditions are less than ideal.

Farmers should ask several questions before keeping or purchasing seed this year, including:

1. Does the seed look healthy? Plump seeds with good color and no swollen or sprouting seeds are ideal. Large, plump seeds contain more energy and result in better plant stands and early season forage growth than smaller, shriveled seed. Additionally, larger seeds are more forgiving on deeper planting depths. Keep in mind when comparing seed size that some varieties naturally produce a larger seed than others. Always compare seed size of the same variety.

2. What is the test weight (bushel weight)? Test weight is a good initial indicator of seed quality, but is not an absolute. If the bushel weight is below 58 pounds per bushel then this warrants further investigation into the seed quality. Seed tags should state the test weight.

3. Does the seed have good germination? Good quality seed should have better than 85 percent germination. Seed (1 pound) can be sent to the TDA Seed Quality Lab for a germination test and/or a vigor test (accelerated aging) for $9 and $12, respectively.

If pre-harvest sprouting is observed, then a germination test should be conducted several weeks before planting, not immediately after harvest. This is because the germination will decrease in storage, if the wheat had pre-harvest sprouting.

4. Has the seed been exposed to stinking smut (common bunt) or loose smut? If so, the seed should be treated with the appropriate seed fungicide. Very low levels of these diseases can cause substantial problems in next year’s crop. In 2007, several producers were unable to sell their wheat due to stinking smut.

5. Make sure the wheat seed is not contaminated with weed seed. If the seed is certified, the percentage of weed seed (noxious and non-noxious) will be stated on the tag. However, it does not state what type of weed seed. If buying non-certified seed be sure to inspect the seed for weed seed, particularly hard to control weeds such as bindweed, Italian ryegrass, wild oats, and jointed goatgrass.

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