As the value of seed goes up, so does the market for seed treatments.

“Producers are looking at every option to protect their valuable seed investment,” says Charlie Hale, product manager, inoculants, Becker Underwood. “Seed treatments offer a wide range of protection against diseases and pests that can reduce yield. In addition, there is a growing list of seed-treatment tools that show promise for improved plant performance that don't necessarily provide disease or insect protection.”

The new treatments now include nematode protection, improved plant health and protection from environmental stresses.

Treatments trend up

Seed treatments are being applied to more and more corn and soybean seed, either at the seed company or by a seed dealer that offers seed-treating services. It's a trend that industry officials say isn't about to slow down, especially as new seed traits are introduced.

“They complement Bt insect control technologies by providing effective broad-spectrum control of insects and disease to high-value seeds,” says Ben Kaehler, commercial leader, Seed Affiliates and Traits Licensing, Dow AgroSciences. “That translates into better stands and better yields.”

An insecticide seed treatment is already automatic on rootworm-traited corn seed, and it is a growing trend to include a seed-treatment package on other high-value genetics. “The seed treatment can help a grower get the best possible stand and provide early season plant health, which protects the value of that seed,” says Tom Schaefer, lead of U.S. seed treatments marketing and business development at Monsanto. All of the upcoming Genuity SmartStax and Genuity VT Triple Pro corn marketed under the Monsanto umbrella will be treated with the company's Acceleron seed-treatment products. SmartStax corn marketed by Dow AgroSciences also will require a seed treatment.

“Over the next few years we expect a significant portion of soybean seed will be treated with some sort of fungicide/insecticide seed treatment,” says Tim Stoehr, director of sales for Nufarm seed treatment. “There is a drive by trait technology providers to ensure seed treatments are being used.”

Better application

Seed treatment manufacturers are now interested in developing new coatings and polymers that allow seed treatments to be added without increasing the bulk of the individual seed.

“There's only so much seed treatment you can put on an individual seed while sill maintaining productivity at the seed-conditioning facility,” Hale says. “Producers of seed-treatment products are constantly seeking lower application rates.”

In addition, new coating technologies and new active ingredients that require lower use rates may allow a better, and more effective, seed-treatment application.

Earlier this year, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences announced an agreement to evaluate Dow AgroSciences compounds for incorporation into Syngenta's seed-treatment portfolio. Mark Jirak, Syngenta Seed Care marketing manager, says the companies expect this ongoing collaboration to yield new seed coating polymers for use as new seed-treatment solutions.

New technologies

Becker Underwood expects to market, for the 2010 crop year, a new patented technology that enhances the activity of nitrogen-fixing rhizobia. The company signed a commercial licensing agreement to market the product developed at McGill University in Montreal.

The technology involves a fatty acid compound shown to be highly effective in stimulating rhizobia to produce the substances needed for increased nodule formation and greater nitrogen fixation. Becker Underwood claims that, with this technology incorporated into its rhizobial inoculant products, producers of soybean and alfalfa can expect improved yields.

The company also has announced plans to market a new seed-treatment technology developed at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. The technology uses a natural plant compound to help protect the plant against pests following germination. Becker Underwood says that field tests of the new technology have shown a reduction in pest damage as well as increased crop yields. Additional field tests are currently in progress.

The licensing agreement allows Becker Underwood to establish licensing relationships with additional partners.

Plant health benefits

Monsanto's Acceleron seed treatments were available this year on Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans. The 2010 Acceleron products will include insect protection and plant health benefits. Acceleron will be available in SmartStax corn marketed by Monsanto in 2010, Deltapine cotton in 2011 and other crops in coming seasons. The company says the Acceleron system will be available in a number of seed brands.

Nematicide for corn

Avicta Complete Corn seed treatment from Syngenta Seed Care will combine the first seed-applied nematicide for corn with Cruiser insecticide (at an enhanced rate), Maxim XL, Apron XL and Dynasty fungicides. The product is now available for the 2010 planting season. Jirak explains that the nematicide targets early feeding on roots, which can also be an entry point for diseases.

Syngenta claims that, in 2008, 35 large block trials planted by third-party contractors demonstrated the value of Avicta Complete Corn. The company says the results showed an 8.7 bu./acre increase, in fields not known to have nematode pressure. This year Syngenta has in place more than 1,000 on-farm test plots throughout the country.

Syngenta also expects registration for Avicta for soybeans (targeting nematode pests on soybeans) as well as Maxim Quattro (broad-spectrum disease control with enhanced Fusarium activity) for launch in 2010 and 2011, respectively, pending regulatory approval.

Full portfolio

NuFarm Americas is bringing a full portfolio of seed treatments to market. The company introduced its first U.S. seed treatment brand, Senator, in 2008. NuFarm expects to have 15 products available by the end of the year, including nutritional seed treatments that are compatible with insecticide and fungicide seed-treatment products.

NuFarm's products include Sativa 318 FS, a broad-spectrum fungicide treatment that protects against diseases in cereal grains, soybeans and other crops; Sativa M RTU, a ready-to-pour formulation designed for on-farm treatment; Sativa IM RTU, for broad-spectrum disease and insect control; Sativa IM Max, to extend early season insect control; and Signet 480 FS, a fungicide treatment for control of damping-off, Phytophthora, and other soilborne diseases in a broad range of crops.

Biological nematicide

In the fall of 2010, Bayer CropScience expects to launch what it describes as a biological nematicide for both corn and soybeans. Pending regulatory approval, the product will be available throughout the U.S.

Test plots have been planted this year with some excellent early results, says Paul Hewitt, insecticide, nematicide and biologicals manager for Bayer CropScience. “We continue to test new biological seed treatments that can work in combination with our current products,” he says.

New fungicide

On the heels of Stamina fungicide's launch in 2008, BASF is in the final stages of developing a triple-action fungicide seed treatment for corn. The product will combine the active ingredient in Stamina fungicide with two new active ingredients. “This product will provide complete early season disease protection,” says Craig Lindholm, marketing manager, seed treatments, at BASF.

The company expects regulatory approval of the new seed treatment in time for the 2010 planting season.