No-tillers drop seeds into hostile territory like paratroopers parachuting into battle. Once in the soil, they have to fight through disease, insects, nematodes and often cold stress before emerging victorious as a strong, vigorous seedling.
“No-till seed needs maximum protection,” says Paul Hewitt, seed treatment product manager, Bayer CropScience. “Without soil disturbance, you’re more likely to see higher insect and nematode populations along with wetter, cooler soils at planting.”
Seed protection companies say no-tillers are well aware of this challenge.
While seed treatments are the standard in corn, companies see more no-tillers taking advantage of seed treatments in soybeans and small grains.
“No-tillers should be and are among the first to adopt new seed treatment technology,” says Mark Jirak, Syngenta Seed Care crop manager. “They realize they’re planting into a challenging environment and with the value of seed going up, it’s not economically viable to compensate for difficult conditions by overseeding.”
Jirak estimates that no-tillers make up a large portion of the approximately 50% of soybean producers using seed treatments. But, he says, the rest of the industry should soon follow, with numbers reaching 90% adoption by 2013.
“Growers are looking for ways to reduce seeding rates while maintaining populations,” he says. “Soybeans are seen as more of a cash crop, so producers are taking better care of them.”
Using seed treatments is one way no-tillers can achieve better germination, stands and yields, he says.
Though no-till conditions can be tough, there is some encouraging news coming from seed protection businesses. They’re delivering some great new options that will tackle some of the major problems no-till seed faces.
Seed treatments newly on the market and marching down the development pipeline feature stronger formulations; new active ingredients and technologies that tackle an ever-broadening spectrum of pests; and technologies that take on stress, such as cold soils. These treatments are also becoming more user friendly.
“We’ve come from contact-type fungicides that stayed around the seed and provided protection for 7 to 10 days to systemic materials that provide longer-lasting protection for a broad spectrum of diseases, insects and other threats,” says Karen Arthur, research manager of seed protection for Valent.
Improving and broadening protection becomes more important as seed costs continue to rise and more acres are no-tilled. This year and years to come will bring no-tillers more reasons than ever to adopt this technology or re-evaluate their current treatment.
The biggest and most recent development in seed protection is seed treatments with the ability to control nematodes, which is a growing need for corn producers.
“Farmers used to apply organophosphate and carbamate chemistries as granular insecticides at-plant,” Hewitt says. “Those products had activity against nematodes. However, the market has moved away from those products and now we’re seeing increased effects of nematodes.”
Nematodes feed on corn root systems, which stunts root growth, inhibits water and nutrient uptake and makes corn plants more vulnerable to stress. They also open corn plants to soilborne fungi and bacteria.
In 2006, Syngenta brought to market the first seed treatment for cotton with the ability to control nematodes. In 2009 it was introduced for corn.
“Avicta Complete Corn is the first nematicide, insecticide and fungicide combination seed treatment for corn,” Jirak says. “It provides complete early seed protection.”
This pest control solution combines Avicta seed treatment nematicide, Cruiser seed treatment insecticide and Apron XL, Maxim XL and Dynasty seed treatment fungicides.
Bayer CropScience is next in line with a nematode-targeted seed treatment. But it’s not a nematicide.
“Votivo seed treatment is a bacteria-based product,” Hewitt explains. “As the seed germinates, the bacteria grow and live with the root, forming a natural barrier that blocks nematodes from feeding, rendering them irrelevant.”
This newcomer to the corn, soybean and cotton market will be combined with Bayer flagship products, such as Poncho 500 and Trilex 6000.
Moving to Poncho 500, which has double the insecticide rate of Poncho 250, gave growers an average of 4 bushels more per acre in 2009 trials.
When Bayer paired Poncho 500 and Votivo, Hewitt says they saw an extra 4- to 6-bushel yield hike for a total yield increase of 8 bushels per acre. Adding Votivo to Trilex 6000 seed treatment pushed yields 1.7 bushels higher in soybeans.
“This product will fit well with no-till,” Hewitt says. “When the soil isn’t disturbed, neither are nematodes; so that seed needs maximum protection. We expect the farmer will have a positive return on his investment.”
Monsanto is evaluating the addition of nematode protection to its Acceleron seed treatment.
Tom Schaefer, U.S. marketing lead for Monsanto seed treatments, says the company’s pipeline is focused on delivering new active ingredients for insects, disease and nematodes.
He says no-tillers can expect a new offering in the next several years.
Besides adding new protection, many companies are bulking up the protection already offered, making it stronger and longer-lasting.
Valent launched Inovate, a new soybean seed treatment, for the 2010 season. It offers highly systemic fungicide and insecticide protection.
“It gets into the leaf tissue to provide strong protection against the adult generation of bean leaf beetle, thrips, keyleaf weevil and many foliar insects,” Arthur says. “It helps the seedling get started and provides a stronger plant.”
She says that soybeans grown for seed stayed in the fields for a long time this fall due to the bad weather, making them more likely to have the seedborne disease Phomopsis.
“Inovate provides protection from seedborne disease to enhance germination and protection,” Arthur notes.
Monsanto has taken the package approach to seed treatments, designing products and product combinations to optimize the performance of its new seed traits. In 2009, Monsanto launched its Acceleron seed treatment, exclusively with new Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans.
“We know farmers want to optimize performance of that new trait, so we developed a seed treatment platform to meet that need,” Schaefer explains.
And after the limited launch in 2009, Monsanto improved Acceleron based on grower input. It now helps improve yields from three different angles with Harpin Alpha Beta protein for improved early plant growth and vigor; a fungicide combination of pyraclostrobin and metalaxyl for seedborne and soilborne disease; and insect protection from aphids, bean leaf beetles and other early season pests with imidacloprid.
“Plant health is now part of the mix,” Schaefer says. “We use a protein that interacts with plant processes to stimulate overall growth for quicker emergence and increased early vigor.”
Monsanto also developed an Acceleron corn seed treatment product to complement Genuity SmartStax corn and Genuity VT Triple PRO corn.
Available for the 2010 growing season, the seed treatment includes a three-fungicide combination (ipconazole, metalaxyl and trifloxystrobin) with clothianidin, a leading insecticide, for early season insect control.
“We really wanted to raise the bar on performance and maximize the performance of the Genuity SmartStax trait,” Schaefer says. “Relative to the market standard seed treatment, we’re getting an additional 1 to 2 bushels with the Acceleron corn seed treatment.”
BASF is also headed down the package path, but more in the sense of packaging top protection products.
Somewhat new to the seed treatment market — its first seed treatment offering came in 2004 with Charter for cereals — BASF is making strides in the cereals, corn and soybean markets.
In 2008, BASF added Stamina fungicide seed treatment in its lineup for use on corn. The formulation for this product was derived from the same active ingredient as Headline fungicide and offers corn producers control of key seed and seedling diseases, along with improved stress tolerance.
BASF is now working to combine Stamina with the actives in Charter and Acquire fungicide seed treatments for one powerful pre-mix formulation.
“Seed treatments are unique compared to a herbicide, where one active ingredient controls multiple weeds and you select your product based on what weeds you have,” explains Mark Shillingford, BASF market manager for seed treatment. “Seed treatments have to protect against a variety of pathogens that may or may not manifest depending on the year.”
He says one active ingredient won’t control all the pathogens in the soil. And, unlike with weeds or insects, producers can’t just walk out in their fields and determine what exactly they’re dealing with in that growing season.
“We’re mixing multiple modes of action and multiple active ingredients to get one product that controls all the main diseases in a convenient, ready-to-use formulation,” Shillingford says.
An added benefit of Stamina and any product that includes it in the mix, he says, is the plant health factor.
“Stamina doesn’t only control diseases, it also provides a plant health benefit just like Headline,” Shillingford says. “When applied as a seed treatment, this chemistry helps plants germinate and overcome cool temperatures, creating more vigorous plants out of the ground.”
The trend of farmers planting earlier every year and working the soil even less or not at all, as in the case of no-till, means colder soils, he says.
“Producers want to take advantage of planting earlier so the plant is flowering during cooler temperatures, too,” Shillingford says. “Stamina helps the plant to germinate and overcome that early cool temperature stress.”
Greenhouse and growth chamber studies by BASF showed seeds treated with Stamina had more rapid emergence compared to untreated checks under saturated cold conditions.
Stamina is registered for use in corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, rye, legumes and more. Cereal producers will have the option of purchasing Charter plus Acquire pre-mixed in one jug.
The addition of Stamina for a convenient three-way mix will follow soon and will be for use in cereals and corn.
Putting Up Barriers
Seed treatments may have the potential to make chilly soils less of a concern for no-tillers looking to get in the field earlier. But the concept is less about the product and more about the wrapper the seed protection comes in.
Seed protection companies are looking beyond active ingredients to the polymers that are used to apply traditional insecticides and fungicides.
Polymers can act as switches. Certain polymers, such as IntelliCoat Seed Coating Technology from Landec Ag, Inc., are able to create a barrier around the seed that keeps water out and prevents germination. Then, when conditions are right, the polymers shift, allowing water through the barrier and starting germination.
According to Iowa State University Extension, polymer coatings stay intact until soil hits 55 F. So far, however, their research has yet to show if that coating will allow producers to plant earlier or achieve higher yields.
Their preliminary research found that polymer-coated seed planted into soil colder than 50 F that did not emerge before 20 days had greater emergence than non-coated seed. But polymer-coated seed planted at near-average planting dates often had slower emergence than non-coated seed.
The jury is definitely still out on polymers, but they’re on the radar for seed protection companies and could be a huge benefit for no-tillers if fully developed.
Another potential use for polymers is as a mechanism for extending protection of seed treatments by regulating the release of fungicides and insecticides for longer-lasting protection.
Stress Management Now
While polymer technology may — or may not — be the next break in stress management, there are products available right now that can help no-tillers manage stress in their crops. Stoller officials say Bio-Forge also has a lot to offer no-tillers.
“Bio-Forge is an antioxidant that helps crops manage stress from germination throughout the growth cycle,” says Larry Lintner, Stoller regional sales manager.
He explains that when plants are stressed, they produce excessive “stress” ethylene, which accumulates in plant cells and causes the plant to stop cell division and growth. If there’s no cell division or growth occurring in the root system, Lintner says the plant will suffer the rest of the season.
“Stress can be caused by cool soil, drought, herbicide injury or any number of other stresses,” Lintner says. “If the stress happens early in the season, the plant will suffer all season.
“Bio-Forge keeps ‘stress’ ethylene low so cells keep dividing, roots keep growing and the crop can continue to take up the nutrients and moisture it needs to maximize potential.”
He says university trials in several Midwestern states have shown increases from 4 to 8 bushels in soybeans, depending on stress levels.
Bio-Forge is a liquid that can be applied as a seed treatment, as an early foliar spray in the R3 to R5 growth stages or in combination with fungicide applications. At as little as $4 per acre, Lintner suggests using it preventively instead of as a rescue treatment.
“Crops can be under stress even at germination — particularly in no-till,” he says. “The earlier you apply this product, the better it will protect your seed investment.”
In The Pipeline
A number of seed treatment options are poised to enter the market in the next few years. Here’s a glimpse:
Expected to be available for the 2011 planting season is new Maxim Quattro seed treatment fungicide for corn.
“Maxim Quattro will build on the Maxim XL, Dynasty and Apron XL market-leading fungicide package by adding the new active ingredient thiabendazole,” Jirak says. “This is an excellent fusarium compound.”
Syngenta also looks to bring its new nematicide to soybeans with Avicta Complete Beans for 2010. The seed treatment will include the seed-applied nematicide plus CruiserMaxx Beans, and will have activity on noncyst forming nematodes, like root knot.
Jirak says Syngenta will continue to build on the Avicta Complete Beans platform, introducing in 2012 a new fungicide and class of chemistry with the active sedaxane.
“We’re very excited about sedaxane’s plant health effects,” Jirak says. “It has great activity on rhizoctonia.”
With new Inovate just entering the market, Valent is already looking to its next offering with new products expected for corn and soybeans in 2012 and 2013.
“One of the materials we’re looking at should provide great protection against rhizoctonia and fusarium, which can be prevalent in no-till residue from year to year and can cause drag on seedling health,” Arthur says. “This particular compound is going to be excellent in that environment.”
Noting the strong potential for seed- and soilborne diseases in no-till, Hewitt says no-tillers can look for additional options from Bayer CropScience in the near future.
“We have new products in the pipeline that will be suitable for no-till producers,” Hewitt says. “We plan to market several more biological seed treatments in the next 3 to 5 years.”
The bottom line is that while no-till provides great challenges for seed, companies are working to neutralize the challenges to help no-till work.
“It’s a jungle out there for seeds, especially in no-till,” Arthur says. “With GMO technology built into the seed and longer-lasting, better seed protection being added, the value to the grower is tremendous.”