Farmers are being warned: when it comes to saving a few dollars, buying bargain seed—often sold at reduced cost online—will end up costing more in the end.
That’s the warning of University of Missouri Extension soybean specialist Bill Wiebold. Calling it “foolish economy,” Wiebold says farmers trying to save a few dollars by purchasing cheap seed online, or even saving leftover seed themselves, could end up putting their entire 2016 crop at risk.
Risks Outweigh Savings
Buying bargain-priced seed online comes with no return policy and no guarantees. It is likely seed left over from farmers who were unable to plant all they had last spring due to wet conditions or other situations. There is no way to know the seed quality.
In contrast, Wiebold points out that buying from a trusted seed dealer brings reassurance with tags listing such things as germination, weed seed and inert matter percentages. Such dealers are also likely to offer a full or partial replacement plan if replanting becomes necessary, something you won’t get with leftover seed bought off the Internet.
It used to be common practice for farmers to simply store seed until the following season. But that was a few generations ago, when the seed was gathered at the end of the season and only had to be stored during the cold season until spring.
If you find yourself in the situation of having leftover seed, Wiebold says storing for use in the spring isn’t a good option for the same reasons he warns against buying bargain seed online.
Seed being sold online now was left over from the 2015 planting season and has already been stored through the previous fall, winter and into spring. It was then stored through a hot summer when it wasn’t planted.
If saved for planting in 2016, the seed will be stored an additional fall, winter and partial spring. By then, seed quality will almost certainly have suffered. On-farm storage facilities do not present the most ideal climate for seed storage, either, with temperatures often higher than outside air temperatures.
Lower seeding rates and earlier spring planting will take a harder toll on stored seed, reducing germination rates, resulting in lower yields.
If you are in the position of having leftover seed you would like to save for spring planting, pay attention to how you store it. Keep it dry and cool, and store it in low humidity.
Wiebold says some experts recommend storing at 51 degrees and 60 percent relative humidity, or in warm storage at 78 degrees and 31 percent humidity. But he admits, that can be a challenge with on-farm storage. But one concept to keep in mind is that If storage temperature increases, then humidity must decrease to protect seed quality.
Proper storage only gets you part of the way, however. Plan to pay for a vigor test. Loss of vigor becomes an increasing problem with rising temperature and humidity.
Keep in mind, you won’t be able to judge seed quality with a simple visual assessment. But conducting a standard warm germination test will evaluate viability, while accelerated aging tests can determine seed vigor. Wiebold advises performing both tests on stored seed.
Check with your state’s official seed certifying agency to arrange for testing. You will want to sample seed from a variety of areas of storage in late March or early April for testing. Results will be more accurate closer to planting time than tests conducted in the fall or winter.
The results will be useful in determining when and where to plant. Regardless of test results, risk of loss will increase with early planting, and any other stresses, including insects or disease.
If seed quality is likely to suffer between fall and spring, consider using seed as a cover crop. Leftover seed can still grow well in August. When it dies at frost, it can provide useful cover to prevent erosion.
By Lori Weaver