Purple, green, orange, yellow, red? No, these aren’t colors of M&Ms. These are some of the colors you’ll see on agriculture crop seeds that have been treated with the latest technologies to fight diseases and pests. Treating seed is nothing new. Farmers have been using different types of seed treatments dating clear back to 60 A.D. In this blog post, you’ll learn more about how farmers use them today and why.
So, just what is seed treatment?
Seed treating is the act of applying a product to a seed prior to planting. When seeds go into the ground, there are many diseases and pests just waiting to take advantage of those young seeds and seedlings for their own benefit. Farmers want to protect their investment so treating seed is one way to help prevent crop loss.
There are a variety of treatments, but the main categories include fungicides, insecticides, and antimicrobial products.
- Fungicides are chemical compounds or organisms used to kill fungi or their spores. Typically, two or three fungicides are used at a time.
- Insecticides are substances used to kill insects. In any given field, many different insects want to feed on the seed. Insecticides help protect against both the actual insect as well as their eggs or larvae.
- Antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. These biological treatments can also help plants in other ways such as producing their own nitrogen or helping to extend root systems.
Why do farmers use seed treatments?
Every year, between 20 to 40 percent of yield is lost due to pathogens, insects and weeds, according to Bayer Crop Science. Maybe this is why treating seed has been around for centuries. Farmers throughout history have been trying to find ways to protect their crops from damage. The earliest reported use of a seed treatment dates back to 60 A.D. when wine and crushed cypress leaves were used to protect seed from storage insects, according to the American Seed Trade Association.
Besides farm equipment, the purchase of seeds is one of the most expensive products a farmer must purchase. And it’s an annual purchase. Farmers and companies that support those farmers continually want to find ways to protect the value of the seed as economically and environmentally responsible as possible. Seed treatments are one way farmers can protect the seed’s value. Seed treatments can also be a more environmentally friendly way of using pesticides and insecticides. Smaller amounts of these chemicals can be used to benefit the seed when comparing seed treatments to spraying.
Benefits of seed treatments
- Seed treatments protect seeds and seedlings against early-season insect pests and diseases.
- Results in stronger, healthier plants, and higher crop yields.
- Allows for more accuracy and efficiency in crop production inputs.
- Reduces the environmental impact of the production process by decreasing the number of spray applications needed on any given field. In short, using treated seed allows for less spraying during the growing season. This helps lessen the exposure to pollinators and other wildlife.
- By applying color with the treated seed, farmers can tell immediately what type of seed and chemical solution is on the seed in the case of accidental spills.
Seed treatment safety
Agriculture is one of the most heavily regulated industries. It can take a decade or more for a new trait to go from an idea to a seed in the field. New products – both seed and chemical applications alike – go through years of research and testing. Once products are ready for market, agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluate the product for safety purposes.
Treated seeds are no different. Farmers are required to follow safe handling procedures to protect the food industry, wildlife, and the environment. Here are just a few of the procedures farmers must follow to protect the environment.
- Know which treatments seeds have received to ensure proper handling.
- Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling treated seed.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- Avoid generating dust when handling treated seed.
- Properly dispose of leftover treated seed.
Ultimately, farmers want to give their seeds the best possible chance to mature to a healthy plant ready to harvest. They deeply care for the land, which has likely been in their family for generations and want to see that land continue to produce crops not only for their family but also the world. Seed treatments are one of the tools in their toolbox to help them to just that.
- A Farm Kid’s Guide to Agriculture: Why Are Your Seed Pink?
- The Farmer’s Daughter: Excuse Me, Why is Your Seed Blue?
- Farm Basics – Why Farmers Use Seed Treatments video
- Planter Demo Day – Ag Innovations Contribute to Sustainability
- Treated Seed Stewardship for Handling Spills