Looking back at the past decade, it is hard to find an area of crop protection with as many developments as seed treatments. At the start of my career, when I was treating soybean seed for a customer, I remember the only real question was whether or not to treat the seed with a fungicide. History has proven that investment pays off. In fact, more than just fungicide, a seed-applied insecticide treatment is a profitable proposition for growers. Using a fungicide/insecticide treatment commonly leads to better emergence, healthier stands, less early-season insect damage, higher yields and peace of mind for the grower. The fact that fungicide and insecticide treatments are the basis for good seed treatment packages has not changed in recent years. What has changed is the multitude of options available to growers to enhance their seed care package even further.
There are numerous options for seed treatment in today’s market—enough that when you look at all of them, it can be a little overwhelming. There are products that have entered the market to aid in the control of nematodes and Sudden Death Syndrome. Some of these products work similarly to typical seed-applied pesticides we are accustomed to, while others provide a form of biological control. In addition to pest control biologicals provide benefits to crops ranging from aiding nutrient uptake, to stimulating plant growth, to inoculation. Finally, there are several products now available for custom treated seed that may not serve an agronomic purpose, but aid in seed handling with benefits including quicker drying times, more uniform coverage and increased flowability.
It would be nice if you could add a product to the seed for every possible growing challenge you will face in a season, but there is only so much surface area to put product on a seed. So you’ll have to make informed decisions to what will work best for your situation. When making that choice, here are the four places I would start.
Start with the basics
Use fungicide, insecticide and inoculant. This standard practice should be kept in place. There has been great agronomic gain in terms of reduced re-plants, stand improvement and increased yields from these practices. Shifting away from these standards would be a step backward. For the fungicide component, make sure to use a product that will control at least these four diseases: Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Fusarium and Phytopthora.
It is also important to ensure the proper rate is used to provide control of these diseases, particularly Phytopthora.
Include a systemic insecticide that will control below-ground pests such as seed corn maggots, wireworms and grubs along with early season above-ground pests such as bean leaf beetle and early infestations of soybean aphid. Finally, inoculate your soybean seed to ensure robust and early nodulation. The symbiotic relationships with bacteria in the inoculant spurs soybean plants to produce their own nitrogen (sometimes in excess of 350 pounds per acre). That makes soybean inoculants the cheapest form of nitrogen on the market.
Evaluate your SDS and nematode risk
Among the most exciting products coming to market are those designed to control soybean cyst nematode and Sudden Death Syndrome. SCN and SDS are two of the most damaging pathogens to soybean production. SCN is estimated to have caused 118 million bushels per year of lost production on a five year average and SDS averaging 35 million bushels lost per year in that same time frame. To determine the threat of nematodes in your field, rely on prior experience from scouting and digging roots to find SCN cysts on soybean roots. You can also soil test to determine SCN presence. SCN levels will be reported on tests, but remember that levels of nematodes vary greatly across your field. SDS threats will be higher wherever nematodes are present—anything that threatens a young soybean plant increases the likelihood of SDS infection. Some of these threats include nematodes, cool soils, other diseases, extreme wet conditions and any other factors delaying growth and emergence. Of course, a field history of SDS also increases the likelihood of an infection. It is important to remember that both SDS and SCN are soil-borne and not reduced much, if any, by crop rotation.
Products to help mitigate the effects of SCN and SDS products include Illevo and Poncho Votivo from Bayer as well as Clariva and Mertect from Syngenta.
Illevo has shown excellent results in reducing the impact of SDS in years when visual symptoms are noticeable, but also in years when less noticeable root infection occurs. In addition to helping control SDS, Illevo has activity against nematodes early in the soybean’s life. For additional deterrent of SCN, Poncho Votivo can be used in conjunction with Illevo. Poncho Votivo contains a systemic insecticide in addition to a bacteria that will colonize soybean roots, providing a barrier that nematodes find undesirable. This is designed to be season-long protection.
Another form of biological nematode control is provided by Syngenta’s Clariva. Clariva is a fungus transported on the seed into the soil as a spore. When in the presence of soybean cyst nematodes, the spores will continue their life cycle infecting the SCN. The spores keep reproducing to infect other SCN, with the infections killing the nematodes. If the population of the Clariva fungus thrives, season-long reduction of SCN infection can be expected. To aid in SDS control, Mertect can be used in conjunction with Clariva. Mertect is a seed applied fungicide originally used to fight phomopsis and other seed-borne diseases. At newly registered higher use rates it has demonstrated some SDS control.
Incorporate additional biologicals
Biologicals are a historic component of soybean production. The first seed treatments in the form of nitrogen-fixing bacteria inoculants were biologicals. We now have inoculants for beneficial fungi that act as an extension of the plant’s root system. Other microbes that we can inoculate seed with can help make fixed nutrients in the soil more available. We are using biologicals to aid in nematode control. Plant hormones are used to promote more rapid growth and emergence. Signal molecules will allow nodulation or other plant relationships and processes to start earlier. Before selecting a biological product, decide your objective and make sure you are purchasing from a reputable source. Two products worth investigating mentioned in Dr. Weirich’s article in February’s Today’s Farmer are Quickroots and Cue from Monsanto BioAg. Both have shown promise in tests conducted by MFA’s agronomy team.
Address seed handling issues
As we continue to put additional crop protection products on seed, we will have concerns with seed treater cleaning, seed flowability, seed coverage, product compatibility and seed safety. MFA has added multiple products to its crop protection portfolio to address these concerns. We are in the process of evaluating products to keep seed treaters clean and running efficiently. We are also looking at products to prevent bridging in the seed tender or planter, as well as products to allow higher treatment rates when needed. These products may not be part of most pest control or growth promoting products, but they are important to producing the quality custom treated product MFA strives to provide for its seed customers.
As multiple new products enter the seed-care arena, MFA’s agronomy advisers are ready to visit about what works best for your farming operation. When you talk with them, make sure to discuss the needs of your farm—not just from a pest-management standpoint, but also from a production goal and logistical view to ensure your seed-care plan is a successful one.