What Do Bakers and Seed Treatment Customization Specialists Have in Common?

- Ravi Ramachandran

Whereas 15 years ago only two or three fungicide and insecticide components were applied on seeds, today’s seed treatments might comprise nine or 10 different components. It really is a recipe, and I like to compare it to baking a cake where the selection, quality and order of ingredients — flour, sugar, eggs and then yeast — impacts the end product.

Have you ever tried to bake a cake, only to have it fall flat? Without proper testing, the same can happen for seed treatments. Poorly designed treatment recipes may lead to buildup in treating equipment, uneven distribution of active ingredients on seeds, poor seed flow and may even cause issues at planting in a farmer’s field. This is also true for untested custom blends where active ingredients from different sources are combined together. One way to overcome this uncertainty is to use a pre-mix formulation containing multiple active ingredients that are fully optimized for performance.

The more proactive we are at developing and sharing recipes, the better it is for retailers who have a short window to work within, and ultimately farmers. Retailers work within a four- to six-week window to treat seeds, and they can’t afford any disruptions. So the more testing and collaborative work we can do up front, the better it is for downstream treaters working to deliver high-quality seed to farmers.

A typical recipe includes seed-applied fungicides, insecticides and nematicide combined with other adjacent technologies like inoculants, micronutrients, polymers, colorants and biologicals. Selection of adjacent technologies is dependent on the type of crop being treated, agronomic needs, conditions at treating and equipment used for handling and processing seeds.

Inoculants and micronutrients which are of tremendous value and are essential technologies, can be a bit tricky, as they are more sensitive to their surrounding environment — something that must be taken into consideration.

When it comes to inoculants, which can be applied simultaneously, sequentially or in a tank mix, we need to make sure they are compatible with our products. We must also know what levels are needed to maintain the colony-forming units of the rhizobia. Furthermore, we need to focus on timing and understanding shelf life. Does the product need to be a mix-and-plant, or can it be pre applied on seeds and stored for three to four months prior to planting?

Meanwhile, seed-applied micronutrients, such as manganese, zinc and boron, are gaining the attention of researchers as a way to create a more-nutrient dense seed. Micronutrients can deliver what is needed to the seed that might be missing or in low supply in the soil. But it truly is an art to get the right recipe that is compatible with the other ingredients, can be handled easily by the seed treatment applicator and that does what you want in the ground.

Additionally, you have to look at how the addition of micronutrients and inoculants changes the physical characteristics — viscosity, product stability and spray pattern — of a seed treatment recipe.

Polymers are also an essential component of treatment recipes, either built into the seed treatment product or added as a recipe component. They help bind active ingredients on seed and help keep dust off from treated seeds to a minimum during seed processing and planting operations. Polymer selection is crop and recipe specific, with some designed to improve seed flow in seed bins, boxes and planter equipment.

The challenge is that these adjacent technologies often evolve in their own silos before they are tested for compatibility with other “ingredients” in the seed treatment recipe. If we can do more pre commercial testing, there’s the opportunity to deliver more innovations in creating high-value seed-applied technologies.

At Syngenta, we actively collaborate with adjacent technology providers, working with emerging new technologies of polymers, colorants, inoculants, micronutrients and biologicals. When we cross boundaries and begin working with all the different pieces that make up a seed treatment recipe, that’s when true innovation happens.

Success depends on many factors, including: recipe, mixing order, application method and getting the right dose on every seed. What’s on the seed matters to make sure growers get the necessary early-season crop protection.

This can be a difficult task, since seed size varies from one lot to another. But it is important to adjust the treatment recipe depending on the size of the seed being treated to ensure the right dose of product is applied to every seed. To help, we offer application training to retailers and seed treatment applicators at Syngenta’s state-of-the-art Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minnesota. A key part of our whole premise is centered on customer service including product stewardship, training and knowledge sharing. In 2016, we had more than 1,000 customers participate in training opportunities. Our ultimate goal is that we pass our know-how to seed treaters and retailers so they can provide the best, high-quality seed to farmers.