3 July 1998

Skip seed dressing and so save on input costs

By Charles Abel

and Marie Skinner

CEREAL growers could be routinely wasting money on unnecessary seed treatments, warns the National Institute of Agricultural Botany.

In some years up to 80% of cereal seed is unnecessarily treated with a fungicide dressing, claims NIAB, which this week launched Labtest, a revamped version of its seed testing service for growers.

"There is a real opportunity to save seed treatment costs," says NIABs Jane Thomas. "Unless seed borne diseases are present in the seed, using a standard seed dressing will not reduce disease, raise yields or improve the quality of the crop."

If the health status of the seed meets experimentally proven thresholds and early foliar disease protection is not required, a seed dressing can be safely omitted, she advises.

"Growers who buy in C2 seed which meets the Higher Voluntary Standards do not need to pay for a seed dressing either – the definition of HVS means it is unnecessary," she continues.

However, Dalgetys national seeds manager David Neale condemns NIABs message. "I am absolutely appalled. NIAB is basing advice for seed lots of 10-50t on a few grammes of seed tested in their lab. I just hope they have liability insurance.

"Bunt, leaf stripe and loose smut can all undermine the very building blocks of a profitable crop. All it takes is a few grains in a seed lot which the seed test fails to pick up."

He also highlights the risks of soil-borne septoria, fusarium and moulds, particularly where straw is incorporated. "As a grower can you afford to take such a risk with seed when the dangers of a failure are so great."

Dr Thomas defends NIABs stance. "Experiments show the thresholds are robust. Sampling needs to be representative and based on sub-samples, but the thresholds do err a long way on the side of caution."

However, she warns against using untreated seed for successive generations. "Inoculum could then build up to dangerous levels." And fusarium could prevent a widespread adotpion of the approach this season, she agrees.

&#8226 Organic experience underpins NIABs message. "Using untreated seed has caused no problems whatsoever," says Philip Stocker, Agricultural Development Officer for the Soil Association. "There has been no build up of disease, even on farms that have been growing organically for many years."

NIABTESTING

NIABs Labtest offers results

in eight days, checking for seed viability, vigour, germination and thousand grain weight, plus fusarium and bunt in wheat and loose smut, leaf stripe and net blotch in barley. Cost is £147

+ VAT.