For most growers, $16/bu. soybeans have made seed treatment use a no-brainer. These coatings are early-season crop insurance, protecting seeds and improving emergence. But even before soybean prices hit recent highs, more farmers have recognized the value.

This past spring, 90% of the bulk seed that Genesis Cooperative sold went through their seed treater, says seed manager Jeff Hagen. That compares with only about 10% back in 2003, when the Le Center, Minn., cooperative first bought its mobile seed treater. “Many growers have seen they get better emergence and a better stand with seed treatments on soybeans,” he says. “Their use has now become a given for many growers.”

The cooperative offers either a CruiserMaxx Beans package (fungicide and insecticide) for about $10 per unit or ApronMaxx fungicide seed treatment for around $3 per unit. “The benefits of CruiserMaxx not only include the early-season disease control but also suppression of soybean aphids for quite a ways into the growing season. With it, we typically make only one foliar insecticide application for aphid control, usually in August, instead of two applications when CruiserMaxx isn’t used.

“In 2012, with the extremely dry conditions in mid-season, there wasn’t as much of an aphid problem, and we treated just 300 acres of soybeans,” he observes. “Last year we sprayed closer to 30,000 acres for aphids.”

 

Biggest benefits

One very tangible benefit to a complete seed treatment package occurred this year when many growers planted their bean crops two to three weeks earlier than normal. “They didn’t have to increase their planting populations, especially with Roundup Ready 2 soybeans,” Hagen says. “In general, we now recommend 140,000 seeds/acre, as opposed to 180,000, which is what we used to suggest. At $50/bag, that is a significant savings on seed.”

When it comes to return on his investment, Faribault, Minn., farmer and Genesis customer Pat DeGrood says his two main reasons for using soybean seed treatments are that they create better growing conditions for the seed from the start, and that boosts yields. “We’ve used seed treatments on soybeans for five years, and did side-by-side tests the first two years,” he says. “We’ve seen a consistent yield increase of between 2 and 5 bu./acre.

“Prior to using CruiserMaxx, we had some early emergence issues with soybeans,” says DeGrood, who farms with his brother Joe. “While I can’t say the seed treatment made all the difference, it definitely helped to make seed emergence more consistent, especially in reduced-tillage situations.”

DeGrood says he views soybean seed treatments as a good risk management tool. “As long as we don’t lose money on it, it’s worth using. I really don’t think we’ve ever lost money on using it, and in most years, the payback has been big.”

 

Probability of return

University of Wisconsin research shows that using seed treatments on soybeans offers a fairly high probability of payback, especially when soybean prices are at least $9/bu. and/or average yields are in the mid to high range. In trials conducted from 2008 to 2010 at nine locations around Wisconsin, researchers evaluated ApronMaxx and CruiserMaxx seed treatments, taking into consideration soybean prices and yield potential environments, include 40-, 60- and 80-bu./acre scenarios. The probability of payback is significantly higher in high-yield environments and obviously increases with higher grain prices.

“At $6/bu. soybeans and a 40-bu./acre environment, there was a 42% probability that ApronMaxx covered the cost of application and 43% for CruiserMaxx,” says Shawn Conley, state soybean and small grain Extension specialist. “By increasing yields to 60 bu./acre, the probability of payback increases to 72% and 56%, respectively. “If you extend our table out to include soybean values closer to – say $16/bu. – the probability of hitting breakeven for soybean seed treatments would hit 100% in all categories,” he says.

The next steps in his research are to compare the performance of active ingredients in seed treatments, and to look at yield variability based on management changes such as planting populations. “I’m comparing populations ranging from 140,000 seeds/acre all the way down to 40,000, to better define yield variability and grower risk at low populations with seed treatments.

Many growers think of seed treatments as insurance, but I want to focus on the probability that they will make money for growers in the season ahead,” he says.

 

New weapons against Rhizoctonia

Two new seed-treatment fungicides will be available for soybean seed in 2013. Vibrance, from Syngenta, is based on a new active ingredient sedaxane, which has superior effectiveness against Rhizoctonia and other fungal diseases, says Palle Pedersen, Syngenta seed care technology manager. “It helps to create stronger plant roots for improved nutrient and moisture uptake, which increases yield stability across the field, particularly in stressful environments like we saw in 2012.”

For 2013, the company’s CruiserMaxx Beans insecticide/fungicide, an on-seed application of one or more separately registered products, will be applied with Vibrance fungicide seed treatment to elevate the level of disease protection in soybeans.

EverGol Energy fungicide will also be new for the coming season and is available on Pioneer brand soybeans. Developed by Bayer CropScience, the new fungicide contains the active ingredient penflufen, which provides long-lasting protection against Rhizoctonia and other fungal diseases to promote better crop establishment and improved growth.

EverGol Energy fungicide will be an option in the Pioneer Premium seed treatment program, along with insecticides, an insecticide+nematode protectant and a proprietary biological/polymer for more complete protection of each soybean seed.