Your itch to get the planter in the field a little earlier this spring just might be relieved with the use of new technology that protects seeds from the harmful effects of cold, wet soils. Seed coatings, for both corn and soybeans, will be more widely available this coming season. And recent field trials indicate these polymer wraps show real potential for lengthening your planting window and protecting kernels until soil temperature and moisture levels are just right.

“This technology solves the age-old spring workload problem for a lot of people,” says Bill Gass, vice president of marketing for Landec Ag, which introduced its Intellicoat seed coating for corn to the farm market last year. “It can allow you to start planting earlier in the spring, often by several weeks, and that helps spread out the workload and avoid the usual planting crunch,” he says. “It moves your whole spring operation forward.”

The Intellicoat seed coating is made from Landec Ag's proprietary temperature-activated polymers that restrict water absorption in cool temperatures and allow absorption when temperatures rise. The company's coating system uses a specialized film coater to apply the polymer coating to the kernels. Breakdown of the coating is triggered by temperature rather than moisture, meaning seed can sit in cold, wet soils for weeks without any adverse effects, Gass claims.

“When soil temperatures reach 55∞F, which is the ideal temperature for germination to begin, the coating allows water to permeate the seed to begin germination,” he explains.

Stretching the growing season

Expanding the typical planting window allows farmers to choose longer-maturing hybrids for more of their fields, which generally deliver improved yields, Gass says. “Farmers who planted hybrids with Intellicoat last season reported making an average of $16/acre more, with a few making as much as $80/acre more on those fields than on fields planted with non-coated seeds at a later date,” he says. “Part of that increase in profit was due to improved yield, but another part was because of the savings in drying costs from the longer-maturing hybrids.”

Research plant physiologist Russ Gesch, who works for USDA's Agricultural Research Service out of Morris, MN, has worked with Landec Ag's seed coating for three years and says it's a very useful management tool. “In all three years of our field tests, we were able to get into the field at least one week and up to four weeks earlier than normal — as early as March 26th,” he says. “That added time allows a farmer to be more efficient in utilizing his equipment and labor.”

Using the seed coating on a portion of a producer's corn acreage would be enough to make a workload difference. “Picking up an added week or two with corn planting also increases the chances of getting soybeans planted earlier,” Gesch says. “We were able to grow some Group 1.8 soybeans last year because of an earlier start, when we usually grow 0s or low 1s.”

The biggest limiting factor to getting into fields earlier is soil type and the weather. “If you've got heavy, wet soils, getting in too early could lead to serious compaction,” Gesch states. “But our experiences with Intellicoat have shown that it really does protect the seed in cold soils. We've seen emergence delayed by as much as four weeks.

“It may also be a good management tool for no-till and reduced tillage situations,” he continues. “It provides insurance when you're planting into those colder soils.”

Last year, the company's coating was available on 20 hybrids sold under the company's Fielder's Choice Direct brand. This year it also will be available on hybrids from AgVenture, Beck's Hybrids, Hubner Seed Company, Ottilie RO Seed and United Agriproducts' Dyna-Gro brand. Expect to pay an $11 to $12/acre premium for the coated seed.

For more information about the technology, contact Landec Ag at 800/241-7252 or www.landecag.com. For hybrids, contact Fielder's Choice Direct at 800/321-3177 or www.fielderschoicedirect.com; AgVenture at 888/999-0859 or www.agventure.com; Beck's Hybrids at 800/937-2325 or www.beckshybrids.com; Hubner Seed at 800/328-4428 or www.hubnerseed.com; Ottilie RO Seed at 800/798-6884 or www.ottilieseed.com; or United Agriproducts at 970/356-4400 or www.uap.com.

A tool for double cropping

Landec Ag also promotes the use of its Intellicoat for relay cropping of soybeans and wheat. “This technology allows the farmer to plant soybeans between 15-in. rows of winter wheat in early May,” Gass explains. “The coating delays emergence for 20 to 30 days so that the soybeans are just starting to come up when the wheat is harvested.”

He says this system has worked well for farmers in parts of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. “They've been trying to do this without the seed coating technology and it is very hard to manage, since it's so dependent on getting moisture at the right time in the spring. With our system, they've been much more successful at getting two crops from one field in one season. There's also the added benefit of crop rotation,” he says.

Protecting soybeans

Garst Seed Company also is introducing a new polymer-based seed treatment for soybeans for 2004. The seed coating plus fungicide, called ProCoat, provides important protection for today's higher value seed, says Scott Hart, soybean product manager. “Producers used to overplant beans in order to ensure the solid emergence, but that's no longer the case with new high-tech seed,” Hart says. “ProCoat provides early-season insurance, especially when farmers are pushing planting dates earlier every year.”

We know growers are planting earlier and turning to no-till or high-residue practices,” Hart says. “Both factors put a lot more stress on the seed.”

Also part of the ProCoat package is ApronMaxx fungicide. “This means that ProCoat offers broad-spectrum protection against all major soilborne diseases [caused by fungi] such as Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia and Fusarium that can attack a seed before germination,” Hart says. It also provides some protection from seedborne diseases caused by Sclerotinia and Phomopsis, he adds.

The polymer also keeps more of the fungicide in place next to the seed, which not only improves the efficacy of the ApronMaxx but reduces handling concerns, Hart notes.

He reports that small plot tests conducted last season produced consistent average yield advantages of between 1½ and 2 bu./acre. “Some producers recorded an over 3-bu./acre yield advantage from fields planted with ProCoat-treated seed,” he says.

He claims that more uniform emergence is a big part of those yield increases and that the flat per-unit fee of $2.50 for ProCoat more than pays for itself.

The coating will be available on all Garst soybean varieties in 2004. For more information, contact Garst at 888/464-2778 or www.garstseed.com.