The True Cost of Bin-Run Wheat Seed

Be mindful of pros and cons of saved versus certified wheat seed. ( 2018, MGN )

The seed decision is often marred with complexity—especially in wheat seed selection. Do you save money and use an older variety, use bin-run seed or opt for a new, certified, though undoubtedly more expensive variety?

Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to either choice you make. Before you make a decision, understand what you might sacrifice or gain by using certified or bin-run (also called saved or non-certified) seed.

“Most wheat varieties can be saved by the producer and used the following year for planting,” according to University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) Extension researchers. However, some varieties will require you to sign an agreement not to save seed—you must honor any of these agreements.

There are three categories of non-certified, saved, seed, according to UNL:

  • Bin-run seed is the most common. It’s not cleaned, treated or tested prior to planting.
  • Custom-cleaned bin-run seed has been cleaned or conditioned to improve its quality.
  • Treated custom-cleaned bin-run seed has been cleaned or conditioned and treated prior to planting.

Saved seed is typically not tested for germination, purity or weed seed contamination. Certified seed, on the other hand is required to pass field inspection and testing for variety purity.

Planting certified seed guarantees: genetic purity, clean seed, seed quality, lower disease incidence and increased yield potential, according to UNL.

A cheap start could lead to a poor finish at harvest. Price is the No. 1 reason farmers say they use saved seed, but there are some unseen costs you need to take into account.

“The initial cost of saving seed is lower than certified seed but doing so [using saved seed] may lead to a need to purchase more seed,” according to research from Syngenta’s AgriPro brand. Other added costs could be from additional crop protection products needed to reduce disease or weeds found in the seed.

See the table below for UNL’s calculations of actual cost from bin-run seed. This doesn’t account for any unforeseen issues such as replant, weed seed presence or any other issues that un-certified seed could, but are not guaranteed to, present.

Cost of saved seed (bin-run seed)
*Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Research, albeit older research, also indicates there is a yield advantage to using certified seed. The Georgia Crop Improvement Association Small Grain Drill Box Survey in 1985 showed certified wheat seed had a 3 bu. per acre advantage over bin-run seed. A nearly $7 return over investment at the time. In addition, breeding has led to a yield gain of about 1% each year in winter wheat, so older, bin-run varieties might lack yield advantage simply because of their genetics.

“[With certified seed] you know that nearly every seed you put in the ground is a viable seed and is going to be weed-free,” says Darwin Ediger, wheat grower and ownder of Ediger Ag, LLC. in a recent WestBred Wheat blog post. “You also know your seed-per-pound count, so you can target your ideal seeding rate. And, you have the flexibility to spread your risk out by planting multiple varieties, as opposed to being limited to those you planted last fall.”