Evaluate wheat seed quality prior to planting

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Fusarium head blight or scab infection may result in shriveled and shrunken kernels, lightweight bleached or tombstone kernels or kernels that have a pinkish cast or discoloration. Lots with high levels of scab may have lower germination rates. The fungus that causes scab can also cause a seedling blight of wheat. If scab infected seed is used for planting, seedling blights and stand establishment problems may occur.

Management of Fusarium seedling blight is through the planting of disease-free seed or a combination of thoroughly cleaning the seed lot, having a germination test run, adjusting the seeding rate to compensate for germination rate and using a fungicide seed treatment effective against seed-borne Fusarium or scab. A table of wheat seed treatment fungicides can be found beginning on page 129 in the Missouri Pest Management Guide.

Because scab can decrease germination, a germination test may be especially useful in determining if a particular lot should be used for seed. The minimum germination rate for certified seed is 85% germination. It is possible that lower germination rates might be successfully used for seed if the seeding rate is adjusted to compensate for the low germination rate. But this can be risky, especially if weather conditions at and after planting are not favorable for germination and emergence. Fungicide seed treatments can provide some benefit but they cannot resurrect dead seed.

If seed from a field that had Fusarium head blight or scab is being considered for use as seed this fall, it is important to get an accurate germination test and use this information in deciding whether or not to use the lot for seed, whether the seeding rate will need to be increased and whether or not to apply a seed treatment fungicide.

Before submitting a sample for a germination test it is important to thoroughly clean the seed. The wheat seed should be cleaned to remove small and damaged seed and to eliminate weed seeds. With the amount of scab is some lots this year, thoroughly cleaning a lot may clean out 25-30% of the seed in the lot. But a thorough cleaning will give more reliable germination test results and removing small and damaged seed will not only aid in crop establishment it will also provide a more uniform wheat seedling stand.

Removing small and damaged seed will also increase the thousand-kernel weight (TKW), which serves as a measure of seed quality. Wheat seed lots with TKW values greater than 30 grams tend to have increased fall tiller number and seedling vigor.

The next step is to perform a germination test. The Missouri Department of Agriculture offers a complimentary free germination analysis for Missouri farmers and individuals from June 1 thru August 31. The seed cannot be intended for resale; therefore, not subject to the labeling requirements of the law. The seed sample can be sent directly to the MO Dept. of AG Seed lab. and many of the County Extension offices will send in your sample for you. Approximately 1 pint of seed is needed. Contact your county Extension office for more details, Scott County – (573)545-3516.

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