Test your seed early to set yourself up for long term success

Photo courtesy 20/20 Seed Labs Inc. An example of Fusarium graminearum with an 18 per cent infection rate.
Photo courtesy 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.
An example of Fusarium graminearum with an 18 per cent infection rate.
Photo courtesy of 20/20 Seed Labs Inc. An example of “Poor vigour” in a test sample. By testing for vigour producers can be sure of their seed before it gets sown in the field.
Photo courtesy of 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.
An example of “Poor vigour” in a test sample. By testing for vigour producers can be sure of their seed before it gets sown in the field.

By Sarah Foster


As soon your seed is harvested it’s time to think about getting it tested, you might need a rest after laboring all hours of the day and night, but your seed doesn’t.

The earlier you test the better! I can say this with complete confidence, having worked in Chile for the past five years I have had the opportunity to study the behavior of seed within hours of being harvested.

Seed physiologists will tell you that seed is at its peak within hours of being harvested and it begins to deteriorate as soon as it goes in the bin. Germination can remain fairly constant if all the stars align, but the vigour will change very rapidly. There is a very tight correlation between germination and vigour and it should never be underestimated regardless of environmental contains or post harvest conditions.

There have been numerous articles about early testing. And especially given the challenges with harvest this season, it’s recommended that a germination test be the first item on your agenda.

Early reports indicate that the quality is quite good, but some areas are reporting dormancy and others high incidence of disease. Regardless, every region is different and it’s important to consider what your seed quality is like and how stable the germination is likely to be going into next spring.

I talk about our tool kit and the various tests that make up a complete package, but the most important tests in the beginning are germination and vigour. There are many attributes that make up seed quality, and we think of the building blocks that are required to obtain a complete diagnostic profile on your seed lot, this can be done at a later stage after you have had your preliminary work done.

Let’s start at the beginning.

A preliminary germination is worth every penny.  Germination is the foundation upon which you should base your storage, treating, sales and later on seeding plans. It is most certainly one of your most economical inputs that should be considered as a return on your investment. An accredited germination will provide a sound result and should give you an indication of the seeds physical quality.

After the seedlings have been evaluated the first category is the normal seedlings. These are seedlings that will withstand normal seeding conditions.

Keep in mind a germination test is designed to get the best result form your seed, and optimum conditions in the growth chamber equals optimum output.

This season there are two key factors that are affecting the quality immaturity/dormancy and disease. All of these can really hurt the seed quality and longevity of your product regardless of crop type.

In cereals immaturity is commonly described as dormant and if the seed is close to ripe it can be overcome with gibberellic acid or potassium nitrate as a growth promoter. This is administered during the germination period; a pre-chill period is also provided to break the dormancy. Most shriveled or undersized grain is cleaned out; so knowing what you have prior to cleaning is a good start.

There is a plethora of diseases that we encounter today, and we are more knowledgeable about the effects of certain pathogens and the virulence of certain diseases. In fact a complete disease diagnostic can determine the level and type of infection that is present.

Disease is seen in the germination test as seen in the picture this sample has 18 per cent Fusarium graminearum  infection. Although the analyst will not identify the diseases during the germination test we do have a very good idea of the severity and impact on quality. In this case the seed lot is offered forward for further testing by a qualified pathologist or molecular scientist.

These symptoms mentioned above need to be noted on the report of analysis as they do impact the overall quality and out come of your product. So please remember to study your report of analysis for all the information you need because you can determine early on what you need to be thinking in terms of sourcing new seed or the longevity of the germination.

Adding a vigour test that will stress the seed further is an excellent resource.  Vigour is a predictor of performance under a wide range of storage and field conditions. A combination of germination and vigour is a match that will save you a lot of leg work later on.

Seed testing is a crucial element in your farm operation and by using a simple germination and vigour tests this will reveal all the magic the seed has to offer. These tests have more potential than most people realize.

I have heard all too often that seed has gone into the ground without a scrap of information about its potential performance.

That’s like choosing the wrong fuel for a high performance car. It is not a practical business decision given the costs that are associated with equipment, fuel, fertilizer and the seed to move along without testing one or more elements.

In years where environmental factors have played the role in affecting quality put a sample aside for testing and reference.

Always keep a small bag on the farm as a bench mark. Also remember that accurate sampling is critical too in obtaining a representative sample.

-Sarah Foster is president and owner of 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.