By Emi Kimura, Extension Agronomist
And Clark Neely, Extension Small Grains Specialist

Producers across the Rolling Plains and Central Texas who have not planted winter wheat or those who are seeing spotty stands in earlier-planted wheat might consider their seed quality, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Emi Kimura, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Vernon, and Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist in College Station, are advising producers as they move into planting season in those regions that farmer-saved wheat seed from the 2014-15 crop might have had some quality issues that could cause problems with the 2015-16 wheat crop.

The costs associated with using saved, low quality seed can be higher than purchasing certified seed, they warned.

“Winter wheat in the 2014-15 crop year endured a wet spring, which caused pre-harvest sprouting and many head diseases, such as stinking smut, loose smut and Fusarium head blight or scab infection, throughout certain regions of the state,” Neely said.

Some areas had less than 30% germination on wheat acres planted for forage due to the low quality wheat seed, he said.

“The wet conditions last spring lowered the quality of wheat seed intended for planting now,” Neely said.

Kimura said producers should examine their seed prior to planting for quality issues, as this is critical for successful stand establishment.

Some characteristics the two experts advised producers to look for are:

·       Healthy look and smell. Seeds should look plump with good color and have no unpleasant odor. If seeds are sprouted, swollen, shrunken or exhibit any other unhealthy traits, then suspect that the seeds have already been infected with seed-borne diseases, damaged by insects, or undergone pre-harvest sprouting.

·       Test weight. The potential reasons for the low test weight include adverse weather during the seed development, nutrient deficiency, drought stress, insect activity, sprout damage and diseases such as scab, rots and fungal diseases. Healthy seeds should have test weights greater than 58 pounds per bushel.

·       Germination percentage. Minimum germination percentage for certified seeds is 85 percent. Variability in farmer-saved seed suggests that despite good germination for some farmer-saved seed, the quality of the seed depends on the seed source and a germination test should be conducted before planting.

·       Seed-borne diseases/insect activity. If seeds are infected with stinking smut, loose smut, head scab or black point, seeds should be treated with an appropriate seed fungicide. For detailed disease and seed treatment decisions, refer to the Seed Treatment Decisions for Use on Winter Wheat.

·       Weed seed contamination. Common weed seeds that may contaminate saved wheat seed include bindweed, Italian ryegrass, jointed goatgrass and other noxious weeds. Careful inspection is necessary to lower the risk of weed contamination.

Kimura added that when comparing seed size, only do so within the same variety because seed size varies by variety. But regardless of variety, the seed should be plump, which indicates it contains more carbohydrates that will serve as the initial energy source used for germination and seedling growth before the plants produce energy through photosynthesis.

“Also, testing germination of saved seed not only gives you peace of mind, but can also reduce risk and allow seeding-rate adjustments prior to planting to ensure adequate stands,” she said. “You can expect seeds infected with head scab and other seed disease to contain a lower germination percentage.”

“If seeds with low germination are used for planting, the seeding rate could possibly be adjusted according to the expected plant population, but this can be risky,” Neely said.

For a list of seed testing laboratories, refer to the Seed Testing Laboratory Providers for Texas Agriculture.