29 May 1998

Clover seed coating on way

Seed coating could give legumes a better chance of contributing to home-grown forage production. Robert Davies reports

CLOVER seed coated with rhizobium and fertiliser, promising better establishment, will be available in the UK soon, and coated agricultural grass seed will be marketed within 24 months.

Irish farmers can already buy coated clover seed from Germinal Seeds Ireland, Cashel, Co Tipperary, but the companys £200,000 pilot coating plant, which was officially opened last week, is to be doubled in size and automated to supply other European markets.

British Seed Houses will handle UK sales. They, like the Irish company, are part of Germinal Holdings, which has marketing rights to herbage varieties bred by the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.

Seed coating started in New Zealand to improve the results of aerial seeding by enhancing the ballistic characteristics of small light seeds. The Irish plant will work under licence to Canadian Seed Coatings, which applies layers of fertiliser and agri-chemicals to a growing range of crops.

Gabriel Eros, president of the Ontario based parent company Oseco, said 100% of oilseed rape seed in Canada was coated, as was 25% of lucerne and 35% of amenity grass seed.

"It is possible to apply layers of almost anything," Mr Eros said. "A coated seed is a convenience package designed to give the best possible germination and establishment. Placing components where they can be most effective means we can use less and reduce the risk of pollution."

The process is confidential and was not demonstrated at the official opening. Basically it involves turning seed in a drum and adding the right combination of active components and adhesives before applying a final coat of water absorbing material. Dye is also used to indicate the presence of particular toxic chemicals.

Dr Lance Mytton of IGER, Aberystwyth, who developed the atmospheric nitrogen-fixing bacteria that are being included in the coating applied to legume seed, said the development was the realisation of a 15-year dream.

Breeders had produced some excellent new clover varieties, but farmers were wary about establishment difficulties. Placing efficient rhizobia and phosphate close to the germinating seed gave it a helping hand during a critical stage. Plant populations improved, and root nodules packed with the right type of bacteria were formed, he said.

"Trials have shown that the worse the conditions the greater the benefits of coating."

Noel Culleton, an Irish grassland researcher and consultant, said £500,000 worth of clover seed was sown each year on farms in Eire, but poor establishment and subsequent management meant it was impossible to see a clover plant on most farms.

Seed coating could give legumes a far better chance of contributing to better forage protein production. And he urged Germinal to rush to get grass seed coated with insecticides on the market, with Frit Fly a key target.

Oliver Vaughan, managing director of Germinal Ireland, said government approval had been sought to use a range chemicals already used as sprays and seed dressings. In some cases effective control would be possible for 10% of the cost of spraying.

Coating clover seed doubled its weight and cost. Only half the number of seeds was needed to establish plant populations and were as good, or better, as results achieved with naked seed. Getting the required sward clover content should cost no more than at present, or even less.

Independent seed specialist Frank Corkery said interest in coated clover seed had already given a big boost to sales of IGER bred varieties. He anticipated strong interest in both coated amenity and agricultural grass seed. &#42

Better establishment and an easier crop to manage are claimed benefits of seed coating. Above: IGERs Lance Mytton: "The worse the conditions the greater the benfits of coating."

SEEDCOATING

&#8226 Better establishment

&#8226 Easier to manage

&#8226 No more expensive.