Grains Research and Development

Date: 05.05.2014

Call for more seed-coating research

Author: Melissa Branagh-McConachy

Nuffield Scholar Ashley Fraser wants independent research to investigate the effectiveness of different seed treatments.

A man standing in front of silos

Ashley Fraser studied seed coatings and treatments in Europe, the US and China as part of his 2012 GRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship.

PHOTO: Nuffield Australian Farming Scholars

Snapshot

Business: Baker Seed Co. – family seed production and processing company established in 1972; 10 to 15 per cent of seeds grown on-farm and the remainder sourced are from growers along Australia’s east coast.

Employs: 12

General manager: Ashley Fraser, 2012 Nuffield Scholar with a background in farming and manufacturing, chair of the Australian Seed Federation south-east region and seed processors group.

Family property (E.G. Baker & Co) size: 2225 hectares (owned and leased land)

Location: Rutherglen, Victoria

Rainfall: 600 millimetres average

Soil type: duplex grey loam soils

Soil pH: 4.8 to 5.5 (average in calcium chloride depending on liming history)

Crop rotation: full rotation of canola, wheat, oats, lupins (broad leaf and narrow leaf), faba beans

Livestock: breeders, background and supplementary cattle (use by-products from the processing plant and other farm products)

Research into seed-coating technology has the potential to enhance grains productivity beyond the capacity of conventional breeding, says Victorian Nuffield scholar and seed producer Ashley Fraser.

However, the 2012 GRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholar, who manages the Baker Seed Co. in Rutherglen, Victoria, says independent data is hard to come by – something he hopes to see change. He says most R&D into seed treatments is undertaken by the private sector, predominantly by major internationals such as Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and Incotec. 

“Intellectual property is held very tightly so advice, recipes, formulations and research data are almost non-existent to anyone outside these companies. That said, it is fantastic that these companies are doing the research.”

While his Nuffield Scholarship gave him access to some useful but confidential data, he says most seed processors must learn seed-coating techniques from experience and trial and error, rather than information and confirmed data.

This is why he is trying to gain industry support for an independent research program to investigate the effectiveness of different seed coatings, citing the pasture seed trial program by the Australian Seed Federation and Meat and Livestock Australia as an ideal model.

“At least 30 per cent of the variation in a crop’s yield potential is influenced by disease, nutrient availability and other plant stressors, which is where seed treatments can make a huge difference,” Mr Fraser says. “Research into coating technology has the potential to enhance productivity beyond that achieved by conventional breeding.”

To measure and optimise the value of seed treatment technologies, he says seed processors and growers must understand how seed purity, dormancy, germination and vigour interact with variables including moisture, temperature, oxygen availability, light, fungal and bacterial activity, soil properties, nutrient availability and carbon-nitrogen ratio.

“Trial programs are needed to further investigate these interactions at the soil-root interface,” he says.

During his Nuffield tour, Mr Fraser visited technology leaders in Europe, the US and China to study seed coatings and treatments in what is now the fastest growing segment of the global crop protection market. He specifically looked at chemical treatments (fungicides, insecticides and nematicides); physical seed manipulation (ThermoSeed, electrobeam technology, catalytic infrared energy); mechanical seedbed manipulation (the Samco System); coating processes (machinery, colorants and powders); and stimulus products such as trace elements and inoculants.

“The researchers I interviewed are predominantly concerned with plant stress management and environmental protection,” he says. “They regard water use efficiency – combating salinity and improving nutrient availability – as a major priority for the future.”

Mr Fraser predicts chemical-free physical seed treatments will become more popular (currently only two per cent of the market) given their environmental and health advantages, but says the ThermoSeed pasteurisation technology developed in Sweden is only cost effective for large-scale facilities handling volumes much higher than the current Australian market.

He is also promoting further research into the use of catalytic infrared energy to determine the exact wavelength required for maximum bacterial control and minimal germination impact.

In other findings from his study tour, Mr Fraser says seed treatments containing targeted insecticides that cause minimal disruption to the natural ecosystem have good traction in the market. He expects the use of nematicides will rise given nematodes’ greater impact on productivity since the adoption of no-till farming in Australia.

Impressed with the Irish Samco System, which uses biodegradable plastic to heat the soil bed and accelerate crop growth, Mr Fraser described the initiative as “a great example of what can be achieved through manipulation of the seedbed”.

The technology enables the plant to complete its vegetative growth stages before it is ready to set seed, conserving energy for grain fill.

His Nuffield findings confirmed that experimental coating work underway at the Baker Seed Co. is “on track”.

“We have encrusted canola seed with different loadings of lime and talc and found a 30 per cent improvement in hybrid seed survival rates and a 37 per cent improvement in the survival rate in triazine-tolerant varieties once the coating level reached 20 to 30 per cent,” Mr Fraser says.

“We plan to incorporate inoculants, trace elements and bacillus growth promotants in the encrustation this year, based on my tour observations.

“The Nuffield experience may also change the way we dry seed,” he says. “We are building a prototype machine that uses shortwave infrared energy and preliminary trials have demonstrated we can heat seed at twice the temperature without affecting germination. Further trials will determine whether this level of heat is also soft on bacteria; if so, it will revolutionise what we do.”

More information:

Ashley Fraser
0418 176 764
ashley.fraser@bakerseedco.com.au

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GRDC Project Code NUF00010

Region Overseas, South, North, West