In 2012, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant from a 32,000-year-old seed. It had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel in Siberia and was found frozen 38 metres below the permafrost. To this day, the flower known as Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated from a seed.
What those researchers accomplished sheds fascinating light on the topic of seed longevity, which our very own Sarah Foster wrote about in our previous Insiders column. I thought I’d take the opportunity to take things a step further and talk about how understanding seed longevity can help you be successful this coming season, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic we are all living through at the moment.
Quite simply, seed longevity is a seed’s ability to maintain viability over time. Anything that affects seed quality affects seed longevity. Seed longevity can be influenced by a number of factors:
- The seed itself: What crop and variety is it? These basic genetic factors can have a big impact on a seed’s viability over time.
- In the field: Harmful field conditions affect seed longevity in a big way.
- In the bin: Moisture, temperature, disease and bugs that make contact with the seed during storage can have a big impact.
- In the lab: Seed testing can yield valuable insights into a seed’s viability and can actually help you get the most from that seed.
Right now, it’s important to think about how storage over the winter might have affected your seed longevity. Storage molds such as Aspergillus spp. and Penicillium spp. can be found on cereals. These are found on the seed surface and can damage improperly stored seeds. These molds tend to present a problem in warm, high humidity conditions where they will quickly multiply and cause degradation. At high levels, they can cause grain heating, off-odours, reduction of germination capacity and production of harmful mycotoxins.
You can mitigate the risk by knowing what’s going in on your bins and:
- Avoiding temperature and humidity peaks
- Monitoring bin temperature every two weeks
- Reducing high moisture content
- Testing for storage molds
About the last point: the test results can be used to determine the seed treatment that will provide the best control of the pathogens listed on the report of analysis. The results may also be used for deciding that the level of infection may be too high for adequate control with a seed treatment and a new lot of seed should be sourced.
We’re already seeing some significant seed longevity issues in 2020. Close to 20% of samples in January had levels of dormancy still detected. That’s high compared the levels of 1% or 2% we would see in a better year.
In light of the pandemic, now is a good time to think about what you can do to not only keep yourself healthy, but ensure your seed is of the highest quality possible to help Canada have a successful farming season regardless of what the future holds and how long this goes on for.
Check out our recent webinar on this very topic featuring yours truly as speaker!