Seed Treatments Seen Boosting Vigour In Cold Soils

Seed treatments help protect young crops from insects and diseases, but according to Syngenta, its Cruiser Maxx Cereals has an added benefit: increased plant vigour under cold soil conditions.

Research shows early seeding usually results in higher yields. That and the fact more farmers are seeding earlier because they have more acres to cover means added value for wheat and barley growers, Ted Labun, Syngenta’s technical field manager, said in a recent interview.

Several years ago Syngenta researchers sometimes noticed increased crop vigour when seed was treated with Cruiser Maxx Cereals, despite the absence of insect or disease pressure. Further study revealed the effect was caused by thiamethoxam, the insecticide used in Cruiser Maxx Cereals and Helix XTra, a canola seed treatment (see sidebar).

“It was unique with thiamethoxam,” Labun said. “We didn’t see it with the other seed treatments that we were testing.”

But the vigour response doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, it occurs only when the crops are stressed. The stress so far identified in Canada is cold soil, although Syngenta suspects drought is another trigger.

According to a 2006 news release from Syngenta, thiamethoxam increases the production of plant-specific proteins.

“Plants treated with thiamethoxam have improved ability to deal with adverse environmental conditions such as water deficiency, heat shock, pests and elevated salt levels,” according to the release.

The conclusion is based on three years of independent laboratory and greenhouse tests by the University of Berlin in Germany and University of So Paulo in Brazil.

Thiamethoxam controls wireworm, for which damage is often hard to diagnose because it occurs below the soil and is patchy.

“The benefits that we’ve seen with wireworm control, depending on the severity, has been anywhere from two bushels (an acre) for light pressure up to three or four bushels on average across the whole field,” Labun said.

Wireworms are not a major problem in most Manitoba fields, but some fields suffer major losses, said John Gavloski, an entomologist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI).

“They’re probably in most fields but at levels where you might get the odd plant affected,” he said. “It’s not a given that you’ve got to treat for wireworm.”

Thiamethoxam only provides seasonal wireworm control, Gavloski said.

“Once they’ve taken up the chemical they essentially get intoxicated and stop feeding for a very prolonged period of time, but it’s not long enough to kill them, but it’s long enough for the plant to get itself established and do quite well,” he said.

Seeds and seedlings are more at risk to wireworms in cold soil, he added.

“The reason being is the wireworms will still be active but it’s taking longer for the seed to germinate and get going,” he said. “Plants are only susceptible to wireworms when they are seedlings.”

This spring Syngenta is giving Manitoba farmers access to an on-farm, do-it-yourself, Cruiser Maxx Cereals treatment. Where wireworm populations are heavy a higher rate is required, which can only be done by custom applicators.

Even though Cruiser Maxx Cereals is very safe for those applying it to seed, Syngenta will help farmers treat their seed.

“We want to make sure we’re in the fields with the guys and make sure they’re using it properly… because our seed treatments only work if they are applied properly,” said Doug Lindberg, Syngenta’s seed treatment specialist.

“Getting the right amount of seed treatment on the right amount of seed is important, but the right amount of seed treatment on the right amount of seed, applied properly, is imperative.” [email protected]

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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