How valuable are insecticide seed treatments?
There has been some reports from various sources suggesting that insecticide seed treatments (IST) have limited value and don’t affect yield. Some of this is related to the anti-neonicotinoid craze that has become a very political issue. It is dangerous and naive to make generalized comments about the value of IST across a wide geography for something as highly variable as crop production and insect pests. There is a need to set the record straight and make sure comments made in other geographies are not generalized to other areas. There has been years of testing and multiple locations in the Mid South that quantify the value of insecticide seed treatments for multiple crops. My counterparts and I routinely conduct standardized IST trials in cotton, soybean and corn. Many of these data are presented at various meetings but seldom make it into the referred literature. Mainstream entomology journals typically discourage publishing “treat and count” kind of trials, but that doesn’t mean these data don’t exist.
I’ve been showing summary data of cotton yield response to neonicotinoid insecticides at various meetings this year. These are data compiled across 22 trials over about 10 years from Tennessee and Arkansas. In a nutshell, neonicotinoid seed treatments increased yield by about 188 pounds of lint/acre compared to untreated plots (linked below). Thrips control matters in cotton!
CottonThrips: summary of cotton 22 trials with insecticide seed treatments
Several years ago, I did a similar exercise for corn for all the data I could get my hands on from Tennessee. These data also showed that a Poncho seed treatment increased average yields by about 4 bushels/acre (LINK HERE). This number will be higher as you go further south. Seed treatments have essentially made non-pests out of some insects that have historically caused severe yield losses in the Mid South. These include critters like southern corn rootworm, chinch bugs, and seedcorn maggot. They have also suppressed other important pests like wireworms and white grubs. I once visited a 600 acre corn field in Mississippi that had to be replanted because of southern corn rootworm where no insecticide was used. Now, with seed treatments, the last time I’ve seen this critter was two years ago in sweet corn that also had no insecticide. When is the last time you saw a significant problem with seedcorn maggot? These are the obvious examples, but the consistency of IST in increasing corn yields also stems from reducing injury from an entire complex of pests that kill or stunt scattered plants in the field. Treatment effects may not be visually obvious, but they are often reflected in yield increases because corn is often quite sensitive to stand loss.
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