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Keep Plants Focused on Growth

New seed treatments take new approaches to fighting stress

In farming, maximizing return on investment reigns supreme. On Del Unger’s southwest Indiana farm, he and his family work together to determine when to try a new product that could protect and enhance yield and bring higher returns.

“Anytime you can reduce stress and help maintain yield potential is essential,” Unger says. “If we can drive up yields, we drive the cost of production per bushel lower.”

Often, that means anticipating the inherent challenges in every season. “As a farmer, I’m managing for adversity. The ideal year is rare,” he says.

Unger was one of the farmers participating in Exceed the Seed, a symposium on seed treatment technology hosted by AgriThority, a science consulting company. There, the companies mOasis and Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST) introduced BountiSeed and BioEnsure seed treatments, said to reduce uncontrollable stresses. 

BountiSeed uses polymers to provide drought-stressed corn, soybeans and other crops access to water. The company says the seed treatment could be available as early as 2017.

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New seed treatments fight stress at the start of the growing season, when yield is easily impacted.

“The product is in field trials now,” says Steve Hartmeier, senior executive at mOasis. “It helps keep moisture around the seed so the seed is not as stressed during the first 30 days and can focus on growth.”

When applied to the seed, the polymers in BountiSeed act like a sponge and absorb excess water until the plant needs it later, when the polymers will release water back to the roots.

“The biggest benefit is you eliminate the risk of the variability of water in early stages,” Hartmeier says.

The seed treatment does not affect how seed flows through the planter, he adds. The company conducted tests to ensure they maximized ease of use for farmers. 

The microbials in BioEnsure provide crops with salt, drought and temperature tolerance. “We decided to focus our initial efforts on what farmers can’t control,” says Rusty Rodriguez, AST CEO.

BioEnsure is a seed treatment that uses microscopic fungi that live inside the plant to reduce stress. Fungi reduce water consumption in seedlings, which allows them to survive on less. The fungi are dormant until the seed germinates, which AST claims leads to season-long protection. The treatment is compatible with insecticides, fungicides and nematicides.

The product launched in December 2015 in the U.S. and around the world. AST is working with global and domestic distributors and is talking with major seed companies.

“Our first launch is with corn because we have spent a fair amount of time researching it,” Rodriguez says. 

The company plans to expand use of the product into other crops and has been specifically researching cotton. They also plan to include nutritional enhancements in the future.

“Farmers watch weather with a different perspective because rain, or lack of it, can be a six- to seven- figure income swing,” Unger says, “especially when you look at drought and the heat that often coincides.”

Unger says he would consider using new products such as these because he thinks they can buy more time for the crops to preserve potential yield during critical times in the growing season. “We’re always looking to try new things,” he says. 

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