Commercial Seed Technology Application:
The growth in seed technologies stems from the enormous benefits they bring to sustainable crop production. In particular, the introduction of modern low rate chemistry and genetic traits has really driven a huge shift away from conventional soil applied pesticides to seed delivered solutions. Specific compounds, both chemical and even biological organisms, are increasingly applied in specially designed closed industrial application systems placing them in a coated layer around the seed. The exact requirements depend on the products applied, the target seed, the nature of the application equipment and the value of the seed.
The strong trend is for commercial application either by specialist applicators or seed companies. Techniques are too complex for growers, promoting the trend away from grower applied to more industrial applications of seed technology by seed companies and specialist service providers. Such precision ensures that there is minimal waste and that the grower is no longer in direct contact with crop protection chemicals during planting. The combination with the seed provides a total seed delivered solution. Additionally, the growth in commercial seeds, for example hybrid corn, rice and cotton, has favoured commercial application and the trend towards lower seedling rates has further accelerated the cost benefit of commercial seed treatment applications.
Function and trends in Seed Enhancement technology-
Formulation and seed enhancement technology:
Another strong trend is the gearing away from basic dusts (DS) and wettable powders (WS) to specific water-based formulations seed treatment coatings with enhanced properties for seed handling and safety. Dust and basic powder formulations were acceptable for low cost high use rate treatments but are no longer suitable for modern low rate chemistries. Dust and loss of active ingredient from the seed can also occur once the water evaporates from the seed. With low application rates, good coverage is essential so that each seed receives the adequate dose of the product. Farmers also become more demanding as they recognise that dust at the bottom of the seed bag is not only a waste of treatment but a potential hazard for the operator.
Water based formulations have the advantage of being user-friendly and has less regulatory constraints. In general, seed treatment formulation technology is an empirical science strongly influenced by the physical/chemical features of the compounds and only little information is in the public domain.
Many commercial seed treatment suppliers and seed enhancement providers are increasingly targeting the Asia Pacific region and other developing markets. These sectors are seen as having strong growth potential as newer technologies become increasingly cost-effective.
For higher value seeds, modern techniques for pelleting and film coating with rotary equipment have opened up new markets. The new techniques lower the cost of seed coatings and make the processes easier and more efficient. The process of encapsulating the seed into a sphere of clay filler greatly improves the handling characteristics of the seed and provides a vehicle for seed treatment chemicals to be applied at higher rates.
The use of seed priming is also increasing. Many companies have the ability to prime seeds such as lettuce and endive but this technique is now quickly being used for many other species. Priming technologies are being adopted in other horticultural crops like small seeded 6 vegetables and also field crops like sugar beet. Priming treatments in sugar beet promote a more rapid and even emergence particularly for growers who have to plant seeds under adverse conditions or where there is risk of soil capping. In the UK, it was estimated that over 20 per cent of the total crop hectares in 2005 received priming treatment at a cost of around US$8 per hectare (source: Germains Technology Group). This priming treatment is an excellent example of value addition through seed technology as it was sold to the growers as a branded seed treatment. Germains estimated that the treatment brought an additional sugar increase of around 4 per cent which would represent additional revenue of US$50 per hectare for growers in the region.
Barriers to introducing new seed technology:
Through utilising seed technology, the seed breeder can offer the grower not only genetic improvement but also the most advanced technology in plant protection. This “added value” to growers is a major opportunity for the seed industry. This opportunity also involves considerable investments and risk. New technologies involve higher stock-keeping units, possibly additional application or processing equipment, expertise in application and a new approach to management of seed quality. The risk is often hard to quantify as it will depend on the existing infrastructure and need for investment.
A major reason why seed technology takes slower time to develop in emerging markets is because of the lower level of commercial seed usage there than those in the developed countries. Table 3 shows an estimate of farm saved seeds in Asian markets as compared to France. The adoption of hybrid seed has been greater in some crops and countries than others but clearly on a regional level, it is still well below France.
Field corn is selected as an indicator crop and it is evident that some countries like Thailand and China have adopted commercially produced hybrid seeds at a much greater rate than the others. A clear trend is that as the seed value increases, the adoption of seed treatment and their subsequent value also increases. The introduction of genetically enhanced traits further raises the value of the seeds and subsequent cost benefit of seed treatment technologies.
Additionally for larger seed companies and crops that are widely exported, there are implications regarding the regulations for treated seed. It is for this reason that for export orientated crops, it is the actives that have achieved global registrations that are strongly favoured as they help to minimise the number of stock-keeping units. For higher value seeds, the registration of new fungicides and particularly insecticides for the horticultural sector has been an issue to seed companies who were concerned about the possible effects on seed quality. However, a strong trend in North America shows seed companies looking at branded seed treatments as an opportunity to add value to their products.
Seed priming techniques may further extend to higher volume crops but only in systems where there is accurate planning of seed requirements. Seed priming has the disadvantage of reducing the shelf life of the seed so typically, there can’t be any returns with primed seed. Hence, greatest advancement is in countries where there is very good planning between the seed industry and growers for seed requirements.