Coat and Protect Seeds

Treating seed in the shop carries appeal for many growers, whether attracted by savings, control or planting logistics. ( Matt Pound )

Treating seed in the shop carries appeal for many growers, whether attracted by savings, control or planting logistics. Four growers from Indiana, Manitoba, Nebraska and North Dakota weigh in on the considerations that spurred them to on-farm seed treatment or kept them covered comfortably by retail solutions.

DIY Treater

Just outside Cando, N.D., the Belzers grow 6,500 acres of canola, corn, soybeans, spring wheat and an occasional mix of edible beans or flax. Brothers Tom and Pat, and Pat’s wife, Kim, started treating seed on-farm in 2007. “As a main reason, it allowed us to buy seed early, take delivery and get a better discount. We take delivery in December or January. It changes each year, but it’s steady savings,” Tom says.

Typically, the Belzers begin planting (soybean acreage bounces between 200 to 2,500 acres) around May 15, and adapt treatment timing to weather. “It’s a no-brainer for us because we can wait until the last second when necessary.”

Rattling the bones of a junked combine, the Belzers pulled the unloading auger off a 1978 Massey-Ferguson 750 and cobbled together a self-made seed treater. Boiled down, the device is a hopper perched above an auger on wheels.

Their homemade seed treatment system creates a narrow, flat ribbon of seed that falls 2' into the auger, with a nozzle on each side of the ribbon. “We apply a fungicide and an inoculant, Tom notes. “The treatment isn’t 100%, but it’s 98% coverage and that’s good enough for us.”

Depending on chemicals and acreage in a given year, Tom estimates savings on soybean treatment at between $1.75 and $5 per unit. The farming duo buys name-brand treatment products if costs are close, but also uses particular generics based on personal experience. “We try to be a low-cost input operation, but not use cheap products,” Tom says, “so we manage expenses by working hard to find the lowest costs.”

Shared Setup

In northeast Indiana’s Huntington County, Nick Lund and his father, Kyle, grow 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans. In 2016, Lund, partnered with a farming neighbor who owns a seed treater.

“We penciled buying one ourselves at between $20,000 and $30,000 and may do that in the future. We could pay for it in about three years.”

Lund’s payoff estimate is based on $8,500 saved each season due to self-treated soybeans. He applies a blend of two fungicides, one insecticide and inoculants when ground conditions are difficult. Timing flexibility for years such as 2019, he says, is invaluable: “We don’t get stuck with early decisions. We do it almost live and know what we need right at planting and make one pass at the seed.”

It takes roughly 12 hours of setup, run-time and tear-down for Lund to treat 800 units of soybeans. He acknowledges the pitfalls of self-treatment. “If you don’t use the seed or over-treat, then you can’t sell it as marketable grain, and the seed companies won’t take it back, but we’ve never had a problem. Maybe we didn’t get 100% coverage at first, but we learned quick, and there wasn’t a real learning curve.”

For interested growers, Lund recommends taking account of price differences between treated and untreated seed, and next factoring the costs of treatment products. Where possible, he substitutes with generics and says total soybean savings on the Lund operation consistently reach $10 per unit.

“Every farm is different. Put a pencil to paper and ask, ‘I’m treating X amount of units: So what is the savings off the top if I do so myself?’ Then add in a discussion of investment costs, time costs, neighbor sharing and whatever else might be unique to your farm.”

New Enterprise

In 2016, Jimmy Frederick, paid under $30,000 for a seed treater. He says the investment was money well spent. In savings alone, the seed treater has paid for itself in under three years. Frederick typically plants 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans in the southeast corner of Nebraska.

“Everything — insecticide, inoculant and biologicals — is put on in a single pass,” he says. ”It’s not a big learning curve, and I got it down pretty quick.”

Echoing Lund, timing flexibility is a major benefit of self-treatment, and enables the Nebraska farmer to “hold beans until the last minute.”

Frederick estimates he saves $12,000 each year treating his own seed. He also brings in additional revenue treating seed for neighboring farmers.

”I don’t know if owning a treater is for everyone, but I haven’t run into any problems and having a treater is a great fit on my farm,” he says.

Dealers Deliver

When Mike Gilson started growing soybeans in 2015, he wanted to be spot-on with varieties, treatment and guidance. He turned to Nielsen Seed and works side-by-side with them to take advantage of early booking program discounts to provide a little more freedom on cost. ”I know exactly how much treatment to the ounce is going on my beans, the precise cost for each product and even how long each batch was treated,” says Gilson, who farms 4,000 acres in Canada, roughly 14 miles above the North Dakota border.

Further, Gilson isn’t charged a treating rate.

It’s vital a dealer stands behind seed and treatment products, Gilson says, but "due diligence regarding treatment products rests on grower shoulders,” he adds. ”We’re bombarded with new stuff and many are not value-adders for your region, so do your homework. Ask reps lots of questions, get in your truck and go to a trial or field day and talk to other farmers.”