Don’t keep it: Seed wheat quality not up to par for next crop’s planting

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SALEM, Ohio – There’s no question about it: Whenever there’s a wet spring and summer, farmers will have trouble with their wheat crop.
They can’t get into the fields to harvest before the crop heads out, or, like this year, the wet weather creates fungus problems.
The fungi could mean headaches with seeds to be planted this fall, and carry over to next year’s crop quality and yield.
High levels of seed infection across the region leave experts telling farmers to buy new seed this time around instead of saving part of this year’s crop.
Too wet. According to Ohio State plant pathologist Pat Lipps, seed wheat producers are reporting seed quality issues.
Wet weather during the grain filling period of the crop caused conditions favorable for infection by several seedborne fungi Fusarium graminearum and Stagonospora nodorum.
The fungi cause Fusarium head scab and Stagonospora glume blotch.
Infection. Incidence of head scab in Ohio, on a statewide average, was around 13 percent, according to Lipps.
“Seed infection and vomitoxin were higher that what we expected for the level of disease we had in the field. Because of the wet weather, the fungus continued to colonize the grain and produce toxin,” he said.
Lipps said vomitoxin levels, where detected, ranged anywhere from 2 parts per million to 5 parts per million.
Grain elevators may turn away grain with levels of vomitoxin 2 parts per million or higher.
An example. In New Springfield, Ohio, grain farmer Lee Kohler reported seeing head scab in his crop. He’s also seen the fungus in grain he’s cleaned for other farmers.
“I ran [the grain] through the cleaner real fast, and took out 10 percent to 15 percent more than normal,” Kohler said, noting he’s separating out small kernels.
“Whenever it’s real wet, you’ll run into problems with wheat,” he said.
In comparisons, Kohler’s numbers aren’t off base.
Several seed processors across the state have reported they are discarding about 20 percent of the grain during the cleaning process to improve seed quality, Lipps said.
Buy new. John Armstrong, secretary manager of the Ohio Seed Improvement Association, says he’s encouraging farmers to buy new seed that’s expertly conditioned and treated.
“The whole series of steps in buying new seed is inexpensive insurance for when you go to the fields this fall,” he said.
However, Armstrong is optimistic about the seed that’s out there.
He reports average germination on treated seed at 92 percent, and says that means quality.
“We’re seeing higher than normal cleanout, but what we measure going into the bag is quality,” he said.
Clean it well. Farmers dead-set on using their own seeds should consider asking a professional seed cleaner or another farmer with the right equipment for help.
Any grain that will be saved for seed will need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove all small, shriveled seed, Lipps said.
The seed will need to be stored under dry conditions until planting time to avoid mold and further deterioration.
Lipps warns air cleaning will not be sufficient to remove all diseased seed, but a gravity table will do a much better job if set to clean out sufficient lightweight seed.
Growers that do not have the facilities to adequately clean seed, store the seed and have it treated with an effective fungicide probably should not save their seed this year, Lipps said.
Next year. Not cleaning and treating seed will likely lead to increased disease problems in the next crop.
The fungi that cause head scab and glume blotch will remain on the seed during storage and when planted may cause increased problems with seedling stand establishment, Lipps explained.
Fungi that cause both diseases can kill seedlings under environmental conditions favorable for seedling blight. Stagonospora will produce spores on the young plans in the fall that may contribute to the overall level of leaf blotch next spring.
All saved seed will need to be treated with as seed treatment that contains fungicides effective against both of these fungi.
Don’t be surprised. Lipps also recommends all seeds be tested for germination before planting.
The final germination test should be run on treated seed because treatment will frequently improve germination. It is not wise to plant seed with germination percentages much under 80 percent, Lipps said.
A germination test is an indication of the level of possible problems that may arise from using poor quality seed and it can be reflected in the yield of the crop.
“Do not take chances with poor seed, the risks are too great and expensive,” Lipps said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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