Starting the Season Strong:

Seed Treatments Give Sugar Beet Growers a Boost in the Early Season

Published online: Dec 29, 2010 Feature Dr. Mark Boetel & Dr. Mohammed Khan
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This year sugarbeet growers will be looking to get every edge they can on their crop, so many will look to seed treatments for that boost right from the starting line.

The value of seed treatments

"Many seed treatments introduce a series of new active ingredients to the traditional crop protection system which has for more than three decades relied on older chemistries, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides which actually belong to the same mode of action against the insect system," said Dr. Mark Boetel, sugar beet research and extension entomologist at North Dakota State University (NDSU).

Similarly, a majority of growers prefer seed treatments to those traditional in-furrow insecticides because of their simpler handling and overall ease-of-use during busy spring planting time.

"Seed treatments are comparatively very convenient as far as mixing and handling and calibrating-all of those time-consuming and error-prone steps are eliminated for the grower because the treatment is already on the seed from the onset," Boetel said. "Since the targeted rate of application goes on at the planting of the seed, it becomes a real boon to the system."

Dr. Mohamed Khan, sugarbeet extension specialist for NDSU and the University of Minnesota, added that many growers look to seed treatments "because they provide timely protection for early season pests and may reduce the number of trips across the field, helping reduce the wear and tear on equipment."

In addition to a simplified planting process, some growers see an added value from getting this "stronger, longer" start to the year.
"Being a tuber crop, sugarbeets often have to endure some insectsand diseases attacking them early in the season when the ground is colder and ripe for added pressure," said Dair McDuffee, seed protection research specialist with Valent U.S.A. Corporation.

"Seed protection systems-especially those with both fungicides and insecticides-can go a long way in helping provide that important below-ground protection during critical growth points at the start of the season."

Boetel said these early-season benefits may also translate to profitable end-of-the season advantages as well. In a three-year NDSU study on springtail control in sugarbeets, Boetel said the crops protected by seed treatment materials averaged between $193-219/A in gross revenue increases over not using any insecticide at all-an ROI figure comparable to those of the traditional soil-applied methods.
Finally, experts agree that seed treatments can provide an environmental benefit also.

"Depending on the rate that a grower would use otherwise with a more conventional chemical, our research has shown that growers who use seed treatment are reducing the amount of insecticide active ingredient applied at planting per acre by over 90 percent, and in some cases over 95 percent. So that becomes a significant reduction in the amount of active ingredients released into the environment," Boetel added.

Defining a Strong Seed Treatment

In recent years, more seed treatment systems are cropping up on the sugar beet marketplace, and more are on the way. Experts recommend growers examine a few key attributes when considering seed treatment options:

 Broad spectrum control:
With the wide variety of pests facing sugar beets-from such insects as sugar beet root maggot, springtails and wireworms to such diseases as Rhizoctonia and Pythium-many experts encourage growers to consider seed treatments with a fairly broad spectrum of control.

"Because of the low amount of active ingredient being put directly on the seed via a seed treatment, we're not spreading chemical all over the soil zone or on the soil surface, thereby minimizing the likelihood of negatively impacting beneficial organisms such as predatory insects," Boetel said.

"The broad-spectrum activity offered by insecticidal seed treatments is important in sugarbeets because the crop can be infested by pests belonging to different insect orders. We have wireworms and white grubs of the beetle order (Coleoptera); and the sugarbeet root maggot of the fly order (Diptera); and then we have springtails, which belong to an entirely different group of organisms. So we need materials that have efficacy across all those groups."

 An insecticide/fungicide combination:

While fungicide seed treatments have been around a bit longer in sugar beets, some recent systems introduced add an early-season insecticide component to the mix.

"Sugarbeets can be a very costly crop to put into the ground. If you can combine one or two control methods in a seed treatment, such as a fungicide and an insecticide, you can reduce the number of passes and reduce the overall number of operations," Khan said.

 Contact activity + systemic control

For many growers, this means making sure those seed protection systems include materials which address current pest issues on contact, but also provides longer-lasting systemic activity.

"The art of seed protection is to make sure what you are putting on is effective when you need it," Khan said.

A seed protection system with contact control will help address those soil-borne insects or pathogens which can affect the germination of seed and lead to seed or seedling diseases. Conversely, longer-lasting systemic materials are taken up into the plant's leaf tissue allowing growers to extend the protection window to include insect pests and diseases on newlyemerged crops.

 "If you are targeting a pest like Rhizoctonia, you want to make sure the product you are treating with will be present at the time when the pest is present," said Khan.

The Importance of a Programmed Approach

Though seed treatments may provide an excellent boost to the early season, both Boetel and Khan encourage growers to consider seed treatments as an important tool in their crop protection toolkit and overall strategic plan for the season.

"Seed treatments are a good foundation to start the year and fit very well into a smart IPM program," Boetel said. "For example, with seed treatments we're achieving good protection from early-season pests and moderate control of sugarbeet root maggot infestations, but then growers can wait and see if adding a post-emergence protection for additional protection from root maggots is necessary based upon the later-season pressure in their fields."

Universities such as NDSU are helping growers manage this wait-and-see approach through intensive in-season monitoring and scouting programs. For example, the NDSU NDAWN system monitors weather stations scattered across North Dakota and neighboring states,and hosts a model based on atmospheric variables to predict important events in the root maggot life cycle.
"The key is to plan ahead and then stay vigilant," Boetel said. "And insecticidal seed treatments can be a good foundation to start the season."

New Treatments on the Horizon

In recent years, the use of fungicide/insecticide seed treatment systems has been increasing as more sugar beet growers see the value in seed protection.
And crop protection companies say even more promising products are coming soon. Valent's Dair McDuffee said his company is completing the final trials this year on a new sugar beet seed protection system-NipsITT Suite Sugar Beets Seed Protectant-with a registration anticipated for the 2012 growing season.
"NipsIT Suite Sugar Beets provides super-systemic activity against key sugar beet diseases and insects in a premier package," McDuffee said. "NipsIT Suite Sugar Beets has shown excellent results against sugar beet root maggot and Rhizoctonia in our trials and should be an excellent tool for the sugar beet grower."