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A change for seed treatment?

By Clare Stanfield
A few years ago, Drs. Andrew Olkowski and Bernard Laarveld from the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) were looking for a treatment that would break down animal manure. They developed a catalytic solution that worked on the manure but, to make sure there were no toxic side effects on plants, they tested it on some barley seed. Turns out, it wasn’t toxic at all – the opposite, in fact.
“It was a completely serendipitous discovery,” says Karen Tanino, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the U of S. She explains that instead of hurting barley seed as expected, this unique chemical concoction seemed to help it germinate and grow better through some unknown means.
Tanino is a specialist in plant physiology, so she was intrigued and wanted to find out what was going on. With funding in part from Sask Wheat, she started a three-year research project looking into how this novel seed treatment could work on a field scale and on multiple crops. She wants to know if the treatment will enhance early crop performance and, if so, by how much.
“Some seed treatments are based on plant extracts with unknown properties,” explains Tanino. “But this is not an extract, it’s a known catalytic reaction that uses food grade chemicals off the shelf.”
A catalyst, in this case a transition metal (check your periodic table), induces a reaction in these chemicals to form a new active compound. The end result is a very inexpensive, new kind of seed treatment. “That’s one reason it’s novel,” says Tanino. Another reason is that this seed treatment seems to activate natural defence mechanisms in plants by inducing a stress signal that appears to prompt them to develop resistance strategies to abiotic stressors.
To test this novel seed treatment, Tanino ran trials in wheat and canola research plots, as well as field-scale, on-farm trials with a cooperating producer near Aberdeen, Saskatchewan.
For the research plot work, seeds were treated by soaking, which is how they would be treated in the lab. “If you want to test the response of a treatment from the lab to the field, the best way is to initially repeat the lab-based application,” says Tanino. For the farm-scale work, researchers devised a way to apply the catalytic seed treatment to wheat using a Storm treater, which is similar to how existing seed treatments are applied to wheat.
In the farm trials, wheat seed treated with a commercial fungicidal seed treatment acted as the control and was compared against seed treated with the same commercial product as well as the catalytic seed treatment.
Tanino was looking for differences from germination right through to harvest. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions in the 2018 crop year prevented the field-scale trials to be taken to harvest. But what she saw earlier in the season is very encouraging.
“There are a lot of other factors from seeding to harvest that can affect yield,” she says. “The faster the establishment in the spring, the better a crop performs and we saw so much lateral and fine root growth with the catalytic treatment.” The enhanced root structure was consistent from the lab to the research field (plots) to the farm, and the catalytic seed treatment led to more tillering in the field.
Tanino says results so far are promising. The challenge now is to ensure consistent transfer of results from the lab to the field. She wants to get some in-season plant development and harvest data to complete the picture. There’s so much promise that the U of S has applied for a patent on the novel seed treatment. Should it reach commercialization, farmers could have a new, inexpensive, easy-to-use seed treatment for many of their crops.
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