So far this year, I’ve noticed a distinct change in the levels of mechanical damage to seed compared to last year.
Unlike 2022, where we faced significant challenges, this year has been a different story, and we’re not seeing high levels of it in samples coming off the field. Of course, that can change once seed enters the cleaning and storage stage.
Of course, for seed to receive a blue tag, it must be tested by an authorized seed lab, ensuring its quality and freedom from defects. It’s yet another reason for the seed sector to promote the use of certified seed among growers.
Mechanical damage to bin-run seed is a critical issue that can impact crop yields and profitability. It’s a topic that often falls under the radar, but it deserves more attention, especially in years marked by extreme weather conditions like dry spells and scorching heat. In such years, the risk of mechanical damage to non-certified seed becomes significantly higher.
One of the key factors to consider in the cleaning stage is the brittleness of seeds. In dry and hot conditions, bin-run seed tends to become more brittle, making it more susceptible to damage. This brittleness is particularly evident in larger seed crops. The challenge then is to minimize mechanical damage during various stages of its use, from seeding, to harvesting, to conditioning, and finally storage.
If you have customers who save seed rather than choosing to buy new seed every year, it’s a good idea to provide them with the knowledge they need to prevent mechanical damage.
The following are some practical steps that can help growers protect seeds and reduce the risk of mechanical damage when handling seed:
- Maintain Augers: Ensuring that augers are in good shape is essential. Check for damage or pitting on the flighting, as damaged augers can lead to more seed damage.
- Optimize Seed Movement: When moving seed, do it as infrequently as possible. Reducing the number of times seeds are transferred can significantly reduce the risk of mechanical damage.
- Sweeps and Loading: Properly manage sweeps within the bin and ensure they are in good condition. When loading seeds into a trailer or truck, especially with larger-seeded crops, start with a gentle layer at the bottom and go a bit lower with the auger to create a cushioning effect. This simple step can make a big difference in protecting seed.
- Drills: When working with drills, pay attention to the fans and how they are loaded, whether using a conveyor or an auger. Proper handling during seeding is crucial to minimize damage.
While mechanical damage is largely within a grower’s control, it’s essential for them to recognize that weather and climate conditions can play a significant role. In a hot and dry year, seeds are more vulnerable to damage due to their increased brittleness. Some crop varieties are more susceptible than others, especially in the case of larger-seeded crops, where the seed coat may not be as resilient when dry.
Even crops under irrigation can experience issues in extreme heat, as the water can’t be consistently applied to maintain ideal moisture levels. Without the usual cooling effect at night, the risk of mechanical damage is further heightened. Also, it’s important to note that irrigation can’t mitigate heat blast, caused by a combination of hot days and warm nights, which can further increase the chances of mechanical damage.
Weather has an Impact, but Technology can Offer Help
Understanding the impact of weather conditions on a crop is vital when sending bin-run seed in for testing. Seeds grown in stressful conditions may be more resilient, but mechanical damage still needs to be minimized to give them the best chance of thriving. Keep in mind that mechanical damage over the winter can also lead to moisture issues and potential disease problems in seed.
The key takeaway is that while growers can control how they handle their seeds, being aware of weather conditions and their impact on seed vulnerability is equally important. Mechanical damage may sometimes be an outcome of factors beyond your control, but a grower can still take steps to protect their seed and make informed decisions to reach yield targets.
New advancements may provide some relief from risk of mechanical damage. For instance, some combines now come equipped with cameras that can identify damaged seeds and divert them away from the main seed lot. This can help prevent mechanically damaged seeds from entering the main batch.
In the future, research may focus on improving handling methods, as well as adopting less damaging equipment for seed movement. Additionally, technology like X-ray inspection can be explored to identify internal damage without destroying the seed. These approaches may help farmers and seed handlers take more proactive measures to protect seed from mechanical damage.
Of course, spring seed testing is crucial when it comes to bin-run seed. To assess the impact of stressful weather conditions and storage on the seeds, retesting in the spring is recommended. This helps in evaluating both germination and seed vigour, which are crucial factors in determining whether the seeds are suitable for planting after conditioning and winter storage.
Using new seed in the form of certified seed is one way for growers to minimize their chances of having problems that can be caused by using seed from the bin.
Certified seed isn’t immune to the effects of mechanical damage, but it offers a form of quality control that is very rigorous and this is yet another reason to encourage them to use it.