Over the last two or three years, seed treatments for soybeans have become a standard practice for many farmers as seed has gotten more expensive, prices for soybeans have risen and more and more farmers move toward earlier planting.

Common treatments going on soybean seed include insecticide, fungicide, molybdum and inoculant.

According to a six-year study conducted in four Mid-South states, an insecticide seed treatment improved soybean yields by an average of 3.5 bushels per acre, and provided an even greater return on early-planted soybeans.

According to multi-year studies by University of Tennessee plant pathologist Melvin Newman, a fungicide seed treatment increased soybean yields by around 3 bushels per acre. Newman says that discoveries of new fungicide classes have also led to dramatic improvements in the effectiveness of seed treatments.

“Growers are planting soybeans earlier, often into cool and wetter soils, which is not an ideal situation,” Newman said. “A fungicide seed treatment is really the first step in getting a good crop. The addition of molybdum helps if you have lower pH soils and you want to help nodulation.”

As seed treatments have become more and more popular in recent years, seed treating equipment has gone through a broad transformation in efficiency, speed and reliability. The beneficiaries have been farmers looking for a ways to manage rising seed costs, planting risks and time and labor issues at the farm level.

In past years, farmers wanting to customize their seed treatments may have employed low-tech, turnrow treaters to do the job. But today’s high-tech treaters can apply a custom treatment at the touch of a few buttons — without wasting product.

The best commercial seed treaters can range in price from $18,000 to well over $100,000. The technology can inject several products at once into a mixing chamber a fraction of a second before the seed is coated. This process places an accurate and reliable rate of chemical on the seed, and chemical rates can be changed at the push of a button. This also minimizes the possibility of having leftover material. The latest technology uses an atomizer to “mist” a mix of protection products on the seed.

Seed treatment services are usually offered by local or regional companies involved in seed distribution.

Jimmy Sanders

Seed treating season usually begins in November and runs until early April for Gary Gilder, plant manager for Jimmy Sanders in Cleveland, Miss. While Gilder says the new seed treating technology he uses is more expensive, it makes up for it in increased efficiency.

For example, the two USC LP2000 treaters at the facility have flow meters which tell Gilder exactly how much product is going on the seed. In the early days of seed treating, he would have to send off samples of all treated seed to determine if the right amount of product was on the seed (although this is still done for some insecticides).

Gilder has also seen a tremendous increase in inoculant seed treatments for soybeans, as well insecticide and fungicide seed treatments. “Over years of cotton after cotton, soils no longer have the bacteria in them for nitrogen fixation, which is one reason why an inoculant is a good idea,” says Gilder, who usually treats soybean seed with two fungicides and an inoculant, while rice seed is treated with two fungicides and gibberellic acid.

The seed treatments “give you a little insurance on your seed. Plus it’s inexpensive compared to replanting, and the varieties you want for replanting might not be available. Fungicide seed treatments help farmers who plant earlier into cold, wet soils get a better start.”

Dulaney Seed

Dulaney Seed, in Clarksdale, Miss., started out “primarily cleaning and processing public varieties of rice and soybeans, then moved into contracting with seed companies,” said owner Terry Dulaney.

“We bought our first treater because we needed to be more precise and farmers started seeing the benefits from it,” Dulaney said. “There were a lot of field treaters at that time, and we thought we could save some money for the farmers who were using them, and do a better job of applying the treatment. Up to four years ago, we mainly put on fungicide and micronutrients. Now we’ve added insecticide. All our AgVenture (soybean) lines have that.”

The Dulaneys are now on their third seed treater and each new purchase was accompanied by significant upgrades in technology. The latest is a custom-built Bayer treater with an AccuTreat head and a 12-foot dodecagon (12-sided) polishing drum. It has four separate mix tanks. They also have a USC LP800 treater.

Being a regional seed treater allows Dulaney to react quickly. For example, when EPA and the state of Mississippi approved a Section 18 emergency exemption for Dermacor X-100 seed treatment to control rice water weevil larvae, there was only a small window that EPA allowed for seed to be treated. Dulaney Seed accomplished the task quickly and was able to make seed available to growers — not something a major seed company could easily accomplish.

Farmer demand for soybean seed treatments has taken off, according to Dulaney. “Three years ago, if I would have asked a farmer if he wanted an inoculant on his soybean seed, I would not have had a taker. Today, my whole farmer base of customers is using one.”

Buck Island Seed

Cathy Booth, manager of Buck Island Seed Co., in Tunica, Miss., said when seed started to become a major expense for farmers, “they realized they needed to take care of seed to make sure they were starting their crop year off with good seed and seed treatment. When we started, farmers were treating their own seed. Now our farmers realize that with the cost of chemicals so high, it is better to have their seed commercially treated. When we got our first treater, business really took off.”

Booth, whose husband, Bill, is a wheat, milo and soybean producer, has upgraded the facility’s seed treater to an USC LP800. She says the new technology is faster, more efficient, and very accurate and provides a good quality product.”

Seed vigor is an important factor for farmers and one that can improve through a seed treatment, according to Chad Meyers, who manages the seed treatment facility at Buck Island. “We will test seed vigor before and after it’s treated. In 2007, which was a bad year for seed produced that year, we saw a 16 percent increase in vigor for treated seed versus untreated seed.

“That much improvement doesn’t happen every time, but on average, we can improve vigor by 3 percent to 5 percent,” Meyers said.

The advent of bulk seed versus bagged seed has also given regional seed treaters like Buck Island a decided advantage. Seed can be removed, treated and easily replaced into bulk bags.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com