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Seed Treatment: Advantages and Limitations

Choosing the right seed treatment provides profit and peace of mind.

Deciding whether or not to use various seed treatments can present a challenge. There are multiple treatments that address many problems and crops and a number of different products to choose from. Knowing the facts about different seed treatments is the first step to making the best decision for your crops from the very beginning.

Pros and cons

Using seed treatments has become increasingly popular in commercial agriculture. Seed treatments have proven to be a convenient method to battle early season insects and diseases and promote early season growth. Their advanced low-use-rate chemistries are appealing to farmers who are trying to avoid applying excessive chemicals on their crops. Having "stronger" seeds means that more seeds produce a plant, so money is no longer spent on seeds that don't deliver. In addition, some seed treatments also improve planting characteristics, handling and flowability. Used correctly, seed treatments can often improve yield and quality, provide peace of mind and produce a solid return on investment.

Still, seed treatments don't offer a one-size-fits-all solution for every problem. For example, the treatment could be ineffective or targeted to the wrong problem, thereby costing money and time. Alternatively, treatment could be effective, but still cost more than the profits gained. Perhaps worst of all, the treatment could be improperly applied, leaving you with a seed that is more deficient than the original.

Types of treatments

Different seed treatments are used alone or in combination to address or prevent a number of pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies and to enhance plant growth. These include fungicides, insecticides, inoculants, Plant Growth Regulators, fertilizers and fertilizer enhancers.

Fungicides and insecticide:

These types of treatments help to protect seeds and seedlings from disease and to fight pests that strike early in the season when seedlings are most vulnerable.

Microbial inoculants:

These products help to improve the Nitrogen fixation in legumes or otherwise stimulate plant growth or promote soil biodiversity. ABM is one company that offers microbial inoculant products through Southern States for use on wheat and cereals, soybeans and corn. Bio-Cat Microbials is another company that produces inoculants that increase crop yields. This is achieved by enhancing the biodiversity of the soil with beneficial microorganisms.

Plant Growth Regulators:

This approach assists with the stand establishment of the seedling. It improves the plant's ability to tolerate stress at the early critical stages.


These types of treatment are used to enhance fertilizer performance or supply micronutrients to the soil, which helps plant growth. Southern States provides a number of fertilizer treatment options for various crops based on the needs of the emerging plant.

Supplier-applied vs. planter box treatments

Growers have the option of purchasing seed that is already treated and ready to use right out of the bag as well as purchasing custom-treated seed from their seed dealer. In addition to convenience, farmers using dealer-applied treatments are assured that the treatment has been applied at the proper rate and that different products are correctly combined. Certain seed treatments are only available as dealer-applied products.

Some seed treatments are formulated so that growers can mix the treatment in with the seeds just before planting. Using these treatments can be more time consuming compared with dealer-applied treatments. They may also increase the risk of error from mixing at incorrect rates. Note: If you choose to apply your own treatment, make sure that you mix the seed and the treatment thoroughly in the planter box.

Overall, the importance of seed treatment cannot be overlooked. Whether the use of a particular treatment in a certain situation will be profitable for a grower depends on many different variables, but the potential benefits merit careful consideration of the various options. For more information on seed treatments, consult your local Southern States Agronomy Professional or Extension agent.

See also Soybean Seed Treatments and Population.

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