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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Managing Soybean Seed Supply When Quality Comes into Question

April 8, 2008

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Ohio soybean growers, their sights set on increasing soybean acreage this year, may face crop production challenges due to less than optimum seed quality.

Anne Dorrance, an Ohio State University plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, said that soybean seed production fields were harvested last year when the seed was large and very dry, resulting in thin seed coats. This seed can be easily damaged, translating into potentially lower germination rates, along with reduced vigor and quality, and higher chances for disease development with some soil types.

"What we are concerned about is that in some Ohio soils, like heavy clay soils and in those fields that have had a history of replanting issues, this lower quality seed is not going to do well. The reason being is that the seed coat is already thin and as it rains during the spring the seed will swell and split," said Dorrance, who also holds an Ohio State University Extension appointment. "All the good stuff in the seed will begin to leak out and when that happens all of the pathogens that are common to our soils will get excited. These pathogens can find the seed faster and we have more seed rot and seedling disease."

Dorrance and OSU Extension soybean agronomist Jim Beuerlein are encouraging growers to return to the basics of crop production when it comes to handling poorer quality seed and ensuring a profitable crop stand this season. The following are some tips for managing seed supply:

• All seed should be treated with fungicides for protection from root rot diseases. "This situation is the exact reason why we have fungicide treatments," said Dorrance. "Treating may reduce the germination a bit, but should increase final stands and root system health."

• Plant the highest quality seed first and in the most adverse environments. "Watch the weather, and plant the highest quality seed under the worst conditions, because it already has a good start," said Dorrance. "Seed that isn't as good in quality should be planted under more favorable conditions and when you know that it will be dry for a few days after planting. It won't do a grower any good to put poor quality seed in the ground to beat a rain storm and then get dumped with two inches."

• Handle the seed as gently as possible. "If you've got a bag of seed and seed germination of 80 percent, that means you've got to be careful. The seed is fragile. It'll split more easily, so you are not going to want to throw that bag of seed around," said Dorrance.

• Adjust seeding rates. "Growers are going to want to pay attention to how much seed is going into the ground. On one hand, Ohio producers tend to over-seed, and for those who do, you may end up with a good stand," said Dorrance. "But for those growers who try to stretch the seed across their acres, they may want to bump that seed count up."

• Slow the planter down so that each seed is planted 1 inch to 1.5 inch deep and spaced uniformly in the row. "If you must reduce seeding rates, it is much better to have low populations in narrow rows than wide rows," said Dorrance.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio growers intend to plant 4.5 million acres of soybeans this year, up from 4.1 million acres last year, and slightly lower than the 4.6 million acres planted in 2006. With the increased soybean acreage, Dorrance said that fears of a potential soybean seed shortage are warranted.

"Our concern is if we end up in trouble due to seedling diseases there may not be enough seed for replanting. Conditions in Ohio are very favorable for these soil-borne diseases. It's not the same for other states," said Dorrance. "There is good quality seed out there and if planted under the right conditions the seed will be fine. But this is not the year to push the envelope."

Candace Pollock
Anne Dorrance