Saturday, February 26, 2011

Seed Treatment Training

Thursday, I completed my continuing education hours for my Commercial Seed Treatment license.  My Joe and I have a Pioneer HiBred Seed dealership and to go along with this we started a soybean seed treating business six years ago. What I mean by seed treating is to apply certain crop protection products to the soybean seed after it arrives at our seed warehouse from Pioneer's seed conditioning plant and before our seed customers pick up the seed to plant it.

So why do we plant treated soybeans?  Research from Iowa State University (the agricultural land grant university in Iowa) shows that the earlier soybeans are planted in the spring the greater the yields are in the fall.  Twentyfive years ago, soybeans in northeast Iowa were planted around Memorial Day.  Typically by Memorial Day soils are starting to warm up and soybean seed will germinate relatively quickly.  Today, we are planting soybeans by the end of April beginning of May - as soon as the soil conditions are fit.  However, at this earlier planting date the soils are cooler and wetter than late May and the potential for disease and insect infestations is much higher as it will take longer for the soybeans to germinate.  So the products we apply help protect the seeds and early seedlings from several diseases and insects.  I compare this to giving children a whooping cough vacination.

Is seed treatment cost effective?  It costs about $13.50 to treat 50 pounds of soybean seed.  An average seeding rate is about 50 pounds of seed per acre. Iowa State Research shows a 1.5 to 4.4 bushel per acre yield increase when using treated soybeans.  There is more yield increase potential the earlier the seeds are planted and the more disease potential a soil has. 

The market for soybeans for fall delivery is about $12.75 per bushel.    Let's say we realize an increase in yield from 58 bushels per acre to 61 bushels per acre.  That is a 3 bushel per acre increase.

                                                      3 bu/acre Increase X $12.75/Acre = $38.25 Increase per Acre

                                                      $38.25 Gross Increase
                                                   - $13.50  Investment Cost
                                                      $24.75  Net Increase per Acre

So there is definately potential for a soybean farmer to harvest increased margins with seed treatments.

Are seed treatments safe?   Seed treatments have come a long ways from Roman times when heavy metals were used and could render soils sterile for years or the arsenic used in the mid 1800's.  Todays seed treatments are safe.  We are basically applying less that 5 ounces of product per acre of land.  An acre is 43,560 square feet or about the size of a football field.  Todays products begin to biologically degrade as soon as the seed is planted and last between 15 and 21 days in soil.
The Department of Agriculture regulates of the use of agricultural pesticides.  Every time I treat any amount of seed I make a record of the date, time, amount of seed treated, what products were applied to the seed, as well as the weather conditions at the time of treatment and who received the treated seed.  I must also keep these records for several years.  Below is a picture of treated soybeans.  You will notice that the beans are bright green.  Soybeans are tan, however, by law if a seed is treated with any type of crop protection product it must be colored to signal to a handler that the seed has been treated.  Treated seed can never be used for animal feed or human consumption.  By law treated seed must be planted or destroyed.  There are major fines and penalties if treated seed would ever show up in a feed situation.
Treated soybean seeds

In our operation we treat soybean seed when the customer is ready to plant that way there isn't any extra treated seed.  The customer buys only what he needs.  This makes economic, agronomic, and environmental sense to any farmer. 

I hope this gives you a little insight into the thought process a farmer goes through when planning for the coming growing season.  Once I get started treating soybeans this spring I hope to put up pictures of the seed treating process.


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the piece on soybeen seed treatment. I have a question: recently I have bought a bag of Pioneer Soybeen seeds from a local coop. I don't want to plan them. In stead I want to make some soy milk out of them and drink the milk. My question is: is it safe? There is no treatment mentioned on the bag.


    Tim in Springfield IL

  2. Hi Tim
    Thank you for checking out my blog. I'm not in the position to tell you whether you can use your soybean seed for soymilk. I strongly urge you to visit your seed supplier and have him go over the seed label with you thoroughly. Soybeans that have been conditioned for planting may not be the best choice for attempting to make soymilk. You may want to investigate and see once if there is a certain type of soybeans used specifically for soymilk. Several years ago when I worked in Minnesota I had agronomy customers who grew contracted soybeans for tofu production. These beans were a special variety that fit the tofu producers needs. There may be a soybean variety that yields better for soymilk characteristics. Good luck on your quest!