While numbers vary due to crop type, environmental conditions, pest pressure and product used, crop protection industry representatives commonly claim an average four-to-one return on investment from seed treatment over time.
This economic benefit results primarily from increased yields. But treating seed provides a number of additional benefits to a farm operation. Kent Hall, a market development specialist at Bayer CropScience, points out that seed treatment can improve crop quality as well as quantity. This is especially true with a disease such as fusarium, where even low levels of contamination in harvested grain can severely reduce its value. Loss of even a single grade can have even more impact on net return than producing more bushels.
Seed treatment also protects seed and seedlings under adverse planting conditions, Hall points out. "It’s very beneficial when seed is under stress from cold soils, dry soils, wet soils, or a combination of cold and wet or cold and dry." These conditions, he adds, are being encountered more often with the move by many growers to zero tillage and earlier seeding. Soils tend to remain cooler and wetter under zero tillage. And as farms get larger, growers are seeding earlier.
In a presentation at the 2007 Farm Tech Conference in Edmonton, AB, Dr. Kelly Turkington with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada in Lacombe, AB, noted early-season plant diseases can affect germination, seedling growth, crop emergence and stand establishment. "Ultimately, the result of early-season plant disease development is a poor stand that is unthrifty and non-uniform," he said.
Even though all these growers apply seed treatments every year, they have difficulty putting precise numbers on their costs and returns.
According to Turkington, a poor start can result in increased weed competition, delays in crop maturity, and second flushes of both crop and weeds. All these factors reduce yield and complicate harvest.
But the biggest benefit of all may be simply reduced disease pressure in future years. Seed treating greatly lowers the risk of introducing seed borne diseases to a field. It also reduces the spread of disease organisms already present in the field.
"Seed treatment provides real benefits under a wide range of conditions," says Hall. "It gives your crop the best possible start and promotes a healthy plant stand." This means improved yield, better crop quality, and reduced pest damage in future years.