By Darren Hefty
What a difference we saw on seed treatments in wheat in 2012! With the abnormally warm winter and unusually early spring, insect populations were stronger than ever and early disease issues were plentiful in certain geographies. Biological products like QuickRoots also shined as enhanced root systems stood up much better to tough weather conditions. At harvest time, farmers have seen some pretty impressive yield differences in the neighborhood of 3 to 5 bushels in many cases and even more in others.
What will the fall of 2012 bring? It’s hard to tell. Odds are good that the insect pressure will continue. As for the disease issues, when conditions are dry we still see economic gains from seed treatment fungicides. Here’s our advice going into winter wheat seeding.
- Combination fungicide and insecticide products are consistent winners. Why? The answer is we have no idea how heavy the insect or disease pressure is going to be in many cases. Let’s say that insects strike only 5 out of 10 years and diseases ravage your crop only 6 out of 10 years. Some years, only the insects are a problem. Other years, diseases are the problem. A few years, both insects and diseases hit your crop. 9 out of 10 years, one or the other will negatively impact your yield. By applying a combination product containing both insect and disease protection you have the greatest chance to see a positive economic result using a seed treatment.
- Higher rates of insecticide are needed for heavy wireworm pressure. Especially in the continuous wheat acres and in no-till acres, wireworms have been a massive problem and have overwhelmed the standard seed treatment insecticide doses. The best choice has been to increase the rate of insecticide by at least 2X (follow label directions on maximum use rates). Right now, the neonicotinoid insecticides are the only products for the seed treatment market but the chemical manufacturers are working every day to find new and better alternatives. Other things you can try are crop rotation to broadleaf crops and putting a liquid insecticide in the furrow.
- Biologicals are working. Well, some of them are anyway. The best one we’ve found is really no secret anymore. It’s QuickRoots. We’ve seen consistent gains with QuickRoots on the seed either alone or in combination with insecticide and fungicides. The gains have been even a little better on the fall seeded crops like winter wheat than they have on the spring crops. Getting a good root system established is even more critical when you add the extra hurdle of winter survival on top of just going for the best yield. There are other biologicals out there and some of them have done pretty well, too. Just be sure to try a few fields out first before you go all-in with any new product on your farm.
- Take it to yield. The only way you know for sure that products are working on your farm is to do some strip trials to see what the exact difference is. Since seed treatments cost from $2 to $8, it doesn’t take a whole lot of yield for them to be a paying proposition on your farm. With today’s wheat prices, a 1 bushel gain is all it really takes and we’re typically seeing 3 to 5 more bushels with the best seed treatments. Since yield monitors often only show the 10 bushel differences, you will likely need to weigh your strips or else record each pass with your monitor to see the 1, 2, 3, or 5 bushel gains we’re often seeing with seed treatments. When you are getting 3 times your investment back in less than a year, you know it’s a pretty good deal.
- Keep an eye out for new products. The seed treatment business is really growing fast as the economic returns have been so consistently good. As I mentioned before, the chemical manufacturers are focusing quite a bit of effort and investment in developing new products that will be even better than what’s on the market today. Watch for new products in your local university trials and stay in touch with your seed treatment dealer so you don’t miss out on easier to handle and better performing products.