Whenever a farmer plants a crop, there are a lot of things that they are counting on to help grow high quality grain. For Greg and his family, they need warm temperatures to help the seed sprout and poke out of the ground. Then they need timely rains, along with plenty of sunshine to help that grain grow. But they also need to make sure that hungry insects or pesky fungal diseases don’t eat away at that crop. The good news is, there are products today that can help prevent some of the pest damage. On today’s tour we talk with Greg about something they use called seed treatments. This coating, that covers each seed, is used to protect it at its most delicate stage of life. So come for a tour to find out why Greg thinks this is better than other ways of protecting these little seeds and seedlings.
We are near Guelph at Woodrill Farms with Greg. Tell us about your farm.
We have a diverse operation. We grow corn, wheat and soybeans in the Guelph area. We also have a crop supply and grain elevator business.
You supply other farmers?
That’s right. We sell products that other farmers need to grow corn, wheat and soybeans. These grain elevators are also where they would bring their crop at the end of the year to sell it. So we are a bit of a hub for other local grain farmers in the area.
And this is a family business.
Yes. My grandfather and great-grandfather moved here in 1929. It was a dairy farm up until the mid to late sixties when my father turned it into a crop farm and it’s just grown and developed since then.
We are back behind your elevator in a field. What is growing in this field?
This is a soybean field. We grew corn on it last year. We left the stubble from the corn over the winter to reduce soil erosion. Then this spring, we planted into the stubble so as not to disturb the soil too much and planted soybeans.
Is that pretty normal? To switch crops over the years in the same field. Why do you do that?
It is called crop rotation. We have a pretty standard rotation where we would grow corn, soybeans and wheat after one another. We rotate those three crops and there’s a whole bunch of reasons for that. First, it reduces the disease pressure in the field. If you plant the same crop year after year, diseases can build up in that field and affect that crop. We also like to rotate them to control destructive insects. If an insect likes to eat corn, then it makes sense to change up the crops so we plant soybeans after corn to help control the insect population.
What stage is this field at?
We just planted this field about seven days ago, so the soybean plants are just starting to sprout underneath the soil. If we get some warm weather, they will start to poke through the ground in the next day or so.
We plant the seed an inch and a half deep. We want to make sure that we’re planting it into moisture. As the soil warms up, the seed absorbs that moisture and starts to grow.
Now beside that sprout is this little pink shell that we kind of knocked off when we were digging it up. What’s that pink shell?
That pink shell is the original seed coat that was around that soybean. The ball at the end of the sprout here was the original soybean and it’s in two parts, but it had the seed coat around the outside of it.
The seed is treated (pink) before it is put in the ground. This means we apply products to the seed coat to help it grow. There is insecticide to protect against the insects and fungicide to protect it against any diseases in the soil. Legumes like soybeans also have some inoculant applied so when it starts to grow, it helps create nodules on the roots so it will fix its own nitrogen from the soil.
So, it gives the seed a boost?
It’s a protective thing as well. We are putting that seed in the soil and we want to protect it as much as possible. We put the seed treatment on so that if it turns cold after you plant and the seed stays underground a little longer than you anticipated, it’s got that layer of protection around it.
Lately, we have heard a lot about neonics, which is a pretty common seed coating. Can you tell us more about it?
Neonic specifically protects our seeds from different insects that attack it when it’s in the ground or when the plant starts to grow. There are actually several different insects, like wireworms and grubs, that could come and eat the seed or the roots and it’s not going to grow.
Seed coatings and insecticides have faced controversy about whether they hurt good insects, such as bees. Do they hurt bees? How do you protect against that?
A lot of people are talking about it and they are still working on scientific information to understand that completely. There is concern that the neonics is getting to a non-target insect or onto a non-target plant. For example, when we plant the treated seed, did some dust come off the planter and get onto another plant that a bee might have landed on? As farmers, we’ve done a whole bunch of things to try and mitigate that. We put deflectors on our planters so that if there is any dust coming off of the seed, it’s put into the soil and it’s not onto other plants.
Explain the dust deflector more. What does that do to try to protect the bees or any other insects around?
We use an air planter and the dust deflector on our planters uses a vacuum to suck the seed into a disc because when we are planting seeds we want them to be in specific rows and specifically spaced apart from one another. When we’re sucking that air through the planter, it might suck a little bit of dust off the seed. What we want to do is take any of that air that’s coming off the planter and put it onto the seed or into the soil where you’re planting it. So it’s not getting out into the rest of the environment and it gets absorbed into the soil and to where it’s going to help protect from some of the detrimental insects.
That seems like a better way than just spraying the whole crop at a time.
It is a really clean and safe way for us to apply these products and protectants onto our seed. We have these insects in our soils and in our environment every year, and we have to manage them in order to produce a sufficient quantity of crop. Seed treatments have been a really effective way of managing them in the past.
We also switched to seed treatments as it is safer for the operator because the pesticide is applied directly on the seed and it’s a very small quantity. We can have better control by keeping it on the seed and in the soil, and I think it is the best way to protect our seed. When we have to spray an insecticide to kill the insect that’s on the plant, it sometimes can affect more insects than the ones that we’re targeting. We’re trying to target the ones that reach a threshold that are going to affect our crop and that’s how we make a decision to spray. But if there are other insects in the field, they’re going to be affected as well.
This little soybean plant here, how long before it’s actually a plant and has soybeans that you’re going to harvest?
Hopefully we will have a nice warm summer and we will harvest our soybeans in late September or early October in this area of Ontario. We plant soybeans in May and we watch them grow all summer and do what is needed to make sure we get a good, healthy crop.
Well, hopefully you get a good, healthy crop out of a field like this and all the rest. Thanks very much, Greg.
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