Farms across the country had to deal with a wet spring this year, creating more challenges for grain planting. Most farmers either had to wait for pools of water to drain out of the fields, or had to come up with ways to make it happen. In some cases, wet fields forced delayed planting. But the problems didn’t stop once the water was gone. Warming conditions and drying fields presented farmers with a new challenge – how to protect seeds from fungus.
The Relationship between Fungus and Yield
“If the soils become warmer but are still wet, conditions favor infection by a number of soil-borne fungi, such as the common root rot fungus on small grains,” said Marcia McMullen, plant pathologist at North Dakota State University’s Extension Service. McMullen’s comments on fungus are part of a paper about grain diseases on the extension’s website. Even if soil conditions improve, McMullen and her colleagues warn that doesn’t mean the threat of fungus in fields disappears.
“Sometimes the greatest yield loss from root rot occurs in years that begin wet and become dry,” warned Sam Markell, another NDSU plant pathologist. “When water is abundant (wet soils), even an infected root system may be able to extract enough moisture for the plant. However, when the soil becomes dry, a diseased root probably will not have the ability to extract enough moisture to reach maximum yield potential.”
In other words, the wet ground can cause fungal infections in the crop. And as the ground dries, that infected crop will produce less. Now that we’re aware of the potential problem, how can we protect seeds from fungus?
Fungicidal Seed Treatments May Increase Yield
First of all, NDSU experts advise you to protect the seed before it’s planted. One way to do that is through fungicide. In the NDSU paper, Markell suggests the best fungicides have mefenoxam or metalaxyl. These are ingredients that protect the seeds against water mold fungi. In 2019, as farmers have to plant in still drying fields, water mold is one of the major issues we’re trying to avoid.
But is fungicide always an effective way to protect seed from fungus? The NDSU Extension officials and other experts agree that it helps, especially with dry, healthy seeds.
“Fungicidal seed treatments control fungi residing on the seed surface or inside the seed, and are also effective against pathogens that reside in the soil, causing seedling disease and root rot,” said Alan Dyer, a plant pathologist with Montana State University’s Extension Service. In his “Small Grain Seed Treatment Guide,” Dyer argues that treating seed is critical if you want your crop to have the maximum yield.
A two-year study at NDSU reinforces Dyer’s position. In 2003 and 2004, extension officials studied 14 locations where soybean seeds were treated with fungicide. The fields yielded an average two to four bushels per acre after the treatment, according to the study.
Now if we’re crunching numbers here, at that point soybeans sold for $10 per bushel in North Dakota. That adds up to a $20 to $40 per acre return on investment.
Test Seed Quality Prior to Applying Seed Treatments
Before you pick a fungicide or other seed treatment, Dyer argues in his paper that you need to inspect your seed.
“Examine seed lots carefully before purchase, or when using stored seed,” he cautions. “A seed laboratory can conduct standard seed quality tests at a low cost. Seed lots with low test weights, low germination rates, or discolored kernels often produce less vigorous plants, even when the seed is treated.”
It’s important to test the seed before treatment. According to Dyer treating poor quality seeds can actually damage them further.
Now if you’ve been storing your seed, there’s another way you can protect seed from fungus. As we’ve explained, to avoid infection, you have to make sure the seeds stay dry. If you want to control the moisture, monitor the temperature, which we’ve talked about previously.
Protect Your Growing Plants
But what if your seeds are already in the ground and growing? How do you protect the plants then?
First of all, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture advise you to scout your fields about once a week. Walk through your crops and see if there are any signs of fungal infection. The quicker you notice it, the faster it can be treated.
“Bare patch” fungus, for example, offers early symptoms such as sunken, brown lesions on the crown roots of infected plants. Stinking smut meanwhile holds true to its name, as it produces a strong odor that smells like dead fish.
USDA officials recommend not just using fungicides to treat, but once that is done, make sure your crop is dry. Do everything possible to eliminate water and wet conditions. If the fields and the plants are wet, you have a much greater chance for fungus to develop. In dry conditions, the chances shrink.
Call Tri-States Grain Conditioning at 800 438 8367, contact us here, or live chat with us here to ask about grain temperature monitoring for your seeds and grains. See what it can do for your personal agribusiness.
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