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Colorado wheat farmers should test seed for germination


Planting time is fast approaching and Colorado wheat farmers need to decide what seed they will plant. The unusually wet weather in May and June has led to some uncommon problems being detected at the Colorado Seed Laboratory. Testing has revealed low germination rates on some samples. The main culprit at this point appears to be scab (Fusarium head blight), a fungal disease normally associated with wetter areas of the country. Germination rates below 85 percent are considered low, and some samples have tested as low as 50 percent. Planting seed with low germination could result in poor stands this fall.

What should I do? This year, getting a germination test on wheat seed is more important than usual. The best option is to purchase Certified seed, as all Certified seed is tested and the percentage is listed on the label. Any seed testing lab can perform a germination test relatively inexpensively; two-pound samples can be sent directly to the Colorado Seed Lab at CSL, Dept. of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins CO 80523.

Other diseases have been detected as well, and seed treatment could be warranted. One important use of seed treatments is to control seed-borne smuts and bunts such as loose smut. Loose smut is a problem in some wheat fields every year. Certainly if you noticed more than just a trace of loose smut in a field, and are planning to use seed from that field, you should consider treating the seed.

Another reason to use seed treatments is to improve stand establishment. The wet, relatively cool weather during grain fill and harvest resulted in a higher than normal incidence of scab and another fungal disease of seed called black point in some fields. These diseases can reduce germination and lead to poor stand establishment. If your seed has poor germination (i.e. less than 85 percent), then you need to consider your planting options. The best option would be to discard low germination seed and instead purchase certified seed with high germination. Alternatively you could clean and remove all light test weight seeds and use a fungicide seed treatment to improve stand establishment. Remember that a fungicide treatment will not bring dead seed back to life, but it could help protect infested or partially damaged seed during the germination process and, in turn, improve stand establishment. On the other hand, the use of seed treatment as a general insurance policy on high quality seed (e.g. if smut or low germination are not issues) may not always be warranted based on cost.

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