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Fragile soybean seeds require care this spring

Article cover photo
Because of weather issues last fall affecting seed quality at harvest, soybean seeds will need extra caution when handling this spring (Iowa Soybean Association photo).

By Scott Nelson, ISA On-Farm Network® director

Soybeans grown for seed last year were not treated kindly by the combination of warm weather and an abundance of rain. High rainfall amounts last August and September along with harvest delays created physiological conditions and diseases that could impact the vigor and germination of seed planted this year. The seed industry is dealing with issues of lower seed quality across the country. 

“The entire industry is facing less than optimum germination scores on soybean products grown in the Midwest during the 2018 season,” said Kurt Rahe, a spokesman for Bayer. “But every year, Bayer produces soybeans in a wide range of growing conditions and environments to help minimize the impact of tough production seasons for growers who plant our brands.”

Overall, soybean seed for the 2019 crop should be managed with greater regard. Farmers can only improve their soybean crop this year by following these tips for best management practices for soybean seed of less than ideal quality. 

Take extra caution in seed handling. Some of the planting seed is abnormally large due to the August rains. While this could be good in terms of yield, large seed sizes are more vulnerable to cracking and splitting when handled at planting time. Rubber conveyor belts are the best for minimizing injury to seed while filling seed hoppers. Steel augers and vacuum systems should not be used for seed that is extra fragile. Running full loads at slower speeds will reduce handling injury.

Avoid early planting of fragile seed lots. Early planting is one of the most inexpensive practices used to increase soybean yields. However, fragile seed lots may leak more sugars and exasperate seedling blight diseases like Pythium and Phytophthora. Planting these lots later reduces stress on the fragile germinating seeds. 

Adjust seeding rates. Seeding rates should be adjusted to account for lower germination seed. The equation for this is:

                                   Target final stand ÷ Germination on the seed tag = Seed drop rate

For example, suppose the desired final stand is 110,000 plants per acre and the seed tag lists the warm germination of 85 percent. The final drop rate should be calculated as 110,000/0.85 = 129,412 seeds per acre.

Don’t over-treat seeds. Some of the lower germination seed will be treated with a fungicide. These seeds should not be overtreated with inoculants or other treatments as this will cause further damage to fragile seed. For untreated seed, an application of seed treatment fungicide with insecticide could be especially beneficial this spring. 

Planting this year’s soybean crop should go smoother by following these tips. It is important to lay the groundwork to give the soybean seeds the best chances of producing a good crop. 

For more information on damaged seeds and seed quality, see the Pioneer Agronomy webpage

Contact Scott Nelson at

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