The sale of seed treatments has tripled in the last decade. Why? It makes economic sense for the farmers who use them, says Jay Vroom, CropLife Foundation president and CEO.

Vroom and CropLife Foundation had a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington in December to tout the group’s study “The Role of Seed Treatment in Modern U.S. Crop Production.” On rice to cotton to corn to peanuts, seed treatments now play a major role in the economic sustainability of U.S. farmers, the study illustrates.

Precision agriculture, Vroom says, is often thought of as a machine driven by GPS controls communicating with satellites laying down precise sprays and applications with minimum overlap “but actually the technologies of seed treatments also provide a significant amount of precision increase and obviously reduce soil erosion by up to 99 percent compared to surface application of certain crop protection products, with applied rates of only ten to 40 grams of active ingredient per acre compared to a pound of a granular pesticide treatments going from ounces per hundred-weight of seed to milligrams per seed,” Vroom said.

For definition purposes, “seed treatment” refers to the direct application of crop protection products to the surface of a seed prior to planting. And that practice has come a long way in the last decade and will continue to develop in the near future, said Andy LaVigne, president and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association.

“We have new coating methods that will encapsulate the seed better to ensure you don’t have unnecessary dust off. You look at the ability to include micronutrients as the plant is growing its roots system it is also able to be fed through the coating around the seed.

“Certain microbial products that are now being put on the seeds that are more beneficial in the soil to enhance that growth,” LaVigne said.

“There are a lot of things we’ll continue to see going forward that enable America’s farmers to ensure they’ll get a good stand and look at that almost as a 100 percent growth of every seed that’s planted across the field.”

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Tim Burrack, an Iowa farmer and vice-chair of the board of directors of the Truth About Trade & Technology, was at the conference. He’s farmed corn and soybeans for more than four decades.

“I can plant earlier, cold or wet soils, and I’m protected. I get higher yields and by planting earlier in the spring I have drier corn in the fall. … I don’t have to broadcast pesticides anymore. Seed treatments have changed my management practices,” Burrack said.

There’s going to be new methods of seed treatments coming. So, how will farmers adopt it?

“I said No. 1, it’s got to be plantable. If that seed is sticky or something, it messes us up and then it is not adoptable. We’re looking for that picket-fence stand. One plant out of a thousand that doesn’t come up is eight-tenths of a bushel per acre. …

“We adopt if it is economically friendly for us and friendly for the environment. Farmers love to adopt a technology. At $7 corn (seed treatment) is sustainable but at $4 corn it may not be sustainable.”

Two decades ago, the first neonicotinoid class of insecticide (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin) was registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and that changed the seed industry, the study states.

After seeds germinate, plant roots rapidly take up the neonicotinoid and transport them to the cotyledons, young shoots and leaves. The systemic movement, along with a long residual activity in the plant, makes the chemistry ideal for a seed treatment.