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Interpreting Seed Test Results

By Jason Danielson, Discovery Seed Labs

October 2019

Seed testing results
Seed testing can give an indication of how fit your seed is for planting. Tests should be done for germination, vigour and disease. This package of tests can help you better understand how suitable seed will be for spring.

The germination test will give you an indication of the percentage of seeds that will grow in an ideal growth environment. The vigour test indicates the percentage of seed that will grow in adverse conditions. Even though the vigour assay is not standardized between seed labs, the results should be indicative of the seed's fitness when grown in harsher conditions. Combining the information from the germination and vigour tests will give you a good snapshot of the fitness of your seed.

Ideally, the germination rate from your sample should be higher than 85%. The vigour should be close to the germination value; but if there is variation, it should be no greater than 10 percentage points. A large difference could be an indication of issues in the seed, especially if storage conditions over the winter months are not ideal.

If forced to use seed with a lower germination rate, you will have to increase the seeding rate to reach your target plants per square foot. Keep in mind that you cannot just increase the seeding amount by the percentage you are off from 100% as not all of the seeds you are adding to the increased seeding rate will germinate. A seeding rate calculator can be a helpful tool to determine the correct seeding rate.

Significant time between when your test was completed and when seeding will occur can result in your germination and vigour values dropping. You can retest your seed in the spring to determine if germination has changed from the initial test in the fall.

When performing your own germination tests, it can be challenging to determine if a seed has germinated and is healthy, versus a seed that develops weak roots that won't grow into a plant. Other issues such as fresh and hard seeds, in addition to seed dormancy, can lead to inaccurate results. A certified seed analyst is trained to conduct seed tests.

There are different diseases of interest depending on the crop that you are seeding. For cereals, the main diseases to test for are Cochliobolus sativus (root rot), Ustilago nuda (smut) and Fusarium (root rot) – both Fusarium graminearum and total. Although F. graminearum is not the most aggressive Fusarium species for seedling blight, any areas that have not had fusarium head blight caused by F. graminearum should avoid introducing it. The Fusarium total reported on the seed test includes F. graminearum.

For pulses, the diseases of interest are Ascochyta (leaf blight), Anthracnose, Botrytis (grey mould) and Sclerotinia (white mould). The amount of disease pressure during the last growing season will determine what you will likely have available for quality of seed.

A good practice is to always use the best seed you can source. In good years you should look for seed with little to no presence of disease. In challenging years when the disease is higher, it is important to still source the best seed available and be sure to use seed with good germination.

When using seed with high disease and low germination, more seed is needed to achieve the target plants per square foot. Increasing the seeding rate increases the amount of disease inoculum that you are adding to your soil. A seed treatment can be a good investment in a variety of scenarios, including when using seed with higher disease levels.

Soil Germination Test

It is important to communicate if the crop intended for seed has been treated with pre-harvest glyphosate. Otherwise, the seed will be tested in a normal germination test and the glyphosate may adversely affect germination. This adds an additional cost because the sample will have to be retested for germination. If there is a possibility of glyphosate on the seed, a soil germination test should be requested to "tie up" any glyphosate that might be on the outside of the seed so it does not have adverse effects when the seed is germinating.

Some crop desiccants are registered for use on crops intended for seed production. Glyphosate is not a desiccant. Glyphosate is not recommended for any crop that is to be used for seed. Glyphosate at pre-harvest can cause germination and possibly vigour problems if the herbicide was applied before the seed was fully mature. Crops sprayed with pre-harvest glyphosate may germinate, but the seedling could be stunted and deformed. Crops treated prematurely are off-label and have the potential to threaten export markets.

Seed Samples

The quantity of seed tested is minuscule compared to the size of the seed lot that it represents. Improper sampling is the greatest source of error in seed testing. Make certain the sample is representative of the entire seed lot. To collect a representative sample, gather more seed than needed for a given test. Hand sample or use a probe so that all areas of the seed lot are represented. If the seed is in a bin, sample it from the top, centre, sides and bottom. Do not take your seed sample from beside the bin door. It might be more appropriate to collect subsamples as the seed is being transferred from a truck or bin. After collecting the seed, thoroughly mix it.

Regardless of how accurately the technical work is the results can only show the quality of the sample submitted for analysis. Consequently, every effort must be made to ensure the samples sent to the analyst accurately represent the composition of the lot in question.

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