History of Seed Treatments

Seed treatments began in the early Egyptian and Roman periods when onion sap was one of the first recorded uses. Over the next few centuries, salt water, copper, arsenic and mercury were all used as seed treatments as surface disinfectants and protectants. In 1968, the first systemic fungicide was launched, and crop protection and seed industries have developed and adopted new classes since the 1990s.  

Early seed treatments were mostly targeted at seed problems such as seed rots, stored pests and soil borne pests that attacked the seed. Seed borne diseases that affected crop growth and yield, such as smut of wheat, were among the earliest targets. The next generation of seed treatments were products to protect the seedlings and developing crop from seedling disease and early season insect attacks in the first few days or weeks after germination. These were effective but often not as effective as in-furrow treatments in protecting the emerging crop and developing seedlings.  

Early insecticide, nematicide and fungicide seed treatments frequently had a very narrow margin between enough active ingredient on the seed to do the job, but not enough to cause phytotoxicity. The crop safety of seed treatments could depend on temperature and moisture during the early weeks of crop germination, emergence and seedling growth. Today’s seed treatment products are more effective and less likely to cause crop injury than the treatments available in past decades.  

In the 70s through the 90s, seed treatments competed with in-furrow applications for early season pest management.  Research to resolve the debate about the best methods often demonstrated that a combination of both had the greatest return on investment. In-furrow products were applied to protect the crop mostly after emergence for a month or more, while seed treatments were applied to protect the seed and emerging seedling through the first few days.  

For decades, seed treatment rates were based on rates per 100 pounds of seed. Today they are applied at rates based on the number of seeds being treated, not the weight of seed being treated. This results in more uniform rates per seed and more consistent performance.  

The advent of systemic seed treatments made it possible to control foliar pests of crops with seed treatments for longer periods of time. As seed treatments evolved, they became accepted as more convenient compared to in-furrow treatments for managing many insects, nematodes and diseases. Because it takes less time and/or equipment, seed treatments can reduce production costs and improve planting efficiency.  

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