Seed treatment business has bright future On the expanding market for seed treatments, Monsanto and Novozymes have launched a new microbial that will be applied to all Monsanto’s new corn seeds sold in the U.S. beginning in 2017.

Called Acceleron B-300 SAT, the inoculum is derived from a fungus found in soil. After two years, yields averaged 3 more bushels per acre when compared to a basic seed coating.

The microbial will later expand to other parts of the world, says John Combest, spokesman for The BioAg Alliance — the partnership Monsanto has formed with Novozymes, a Danish firm that makes enzymes.

B-300 could potentially be applied to more than 90 million acres by 2025 and become one of the biggest biological products in the ag industry, says Colin Bletsky, Novozymes’ vice president for The BioAg Alliance.

Microbials represent about two-thirds of the $3 billion market for agricultural biological products. The biologicals are but one facet of the market for seed treatments, which is growing at a dynamic pace worldwide.

Today, nearly all U.S. corn and cotton, and about two-thirds of soybean seeds are treated in one way or another. The coatings give protection against insects, diseases and environmental stresses while enhancing nutrient uptake.

“Nowadays, the seed dealer has a whole host of things he or she can put on the seed,” says Fred Below, a crop physiologist at the University of Illinois.

“They’ve gone from almost no treatment to that of fungicide, then an insecticide , then a nematicide, and now you can put on an inoculum and a biological — all at the same time,” he says. “What’s happened is that you’ve had more choices of what you can put on the seed.”

Changes in treatments


One key change, says Mick Messman, global director of DuPont Pioneer Seed Treatment Enterprise, is the advancement of several new technologies that are resulting in many new products.

Advancement of fungicides came first, he says, followed by the introduction of systemic insecticides, and more recently, advancement of products that are effective against soybean cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome.

“In addition to those three categories,” Messman says, “we’ve also seen an advancement in the technology from biological products that may contribute to improved early-season plant health, or as a component toward protecting against pests. Those could be disease or nematode pests, for example.”

In 2013, Syngenta introduced Clariva, the first biological seed treatment nematicide.

“A biological could be bacteria or fungi that you’re applying to the seed that will help the plant either with nutrient uptake or protect against pathogens,” says Palle Pedersen, head of Seedcare Product Marketing for Syngenta. “It can be a supplement or an alternative to a chemical that will help the seed to germinate and get itself established.”

While there’s growing emphasis on biologicals, they are not new, Pedersen says, pointing to Bt corn, which is grown on millions of acres each year to control European corn borer and other pests. The work with Bt has brought a greater understanding of how biologicals work and has shown how they can help increase profits, he says.

“There’s a lot of work going on in these areas, and a lot of people are looking at alternatives to supplement the chemical profiles to give the growers more yield,” Pedersen says.

In addition to Novozymes’ partnership with Monsanto, BASF acquired Becker Underwood, Bayer CropScience bought AgraQuest, and Syngenta acquired Pasteuria Bioscience, he notes.

“Considerable research and development has recently been focused on single biological controls and more complex microbiome inoculants,” says Steve Savage, a scientist and agricultural technology consultant.

Trends in seed treatment over the past decade include starter nutrients, plant growth regulators, chemical and biological nematicides, and moisture-absorbing polymers, Savage says.

For fungicides and insecticides, he says, additional chemistries with different modes of action are being used.

“The advent of advanced seed treatments coincided with the widespread adoption of biotech traits, with the seed treatment acting as a form of insurance for that more expensive seed,” Savage says.

Higher-value seed — corn, sunflower, sugarbeets, vegetables — tended to be treated by the seed company. Other seed has typically been treated by dealers and retailers, with declining planter-box treatment.

The trend is toward an increasing role for the seed companies in applying treatment, Savage says. That’s now borne out with the new Acceleron B-300 SAT.

Scientists from Monsanto and Novozymes developed a formulation that enables the spores to last much longer — at least two years on the seed, rather than the 120 days previously seen. This allows Monsanto to coat the seeds with the microbial product before shipping them to retailers and farmers.

B-300 is the first “upstream” corn inoculant ever developed, and it’s compatible with other seed coating chemistries, Combest says.

Making an investment

At Syngenta, “we have a dedicated team that is working in the biologicals,” Pedersen says.

What’s changed most about seed treatments overall in the last decade, he says, “is that the chemists in our formulation department have a lot more experience in developing seed treatment technologies with multiple modes of action, so we can stack multiple active ingredients within a formulation. We can apply a very low use rate on the seed, so growers get a broad spectrum of protection.”

Many farmers are ordering seed now for next year, and selecting a broad-spectrum fungicide package will give them maximum protection through establishment against all seedling diseases, regardless of environmental conditions, Pedersen says.

Globally, Syngenta is investing nearly $4 million a day on research and development, he says.

In September, Syngenta opened its $20 million Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minn. There, researchers tailor seed-treatment recipes for customers, and then scale up the recipes from the lab to commercial-size treaters. Syngenta simulates various climate conditions from Canada to Louisiana to understand region-specific differences in produce application and use.

Greater investments in testing capability represent another key change in seed treatments, Messman says.

“At DuPont and specifically within our DuPont seed treatment team, we have invested in what we believe is a leading development program that leverages the Pioneer agronomy sciences network,” Messman says. “That allows us to test several different products and several different product combinations across multiple environments and across multiple genetic packages.”

“The result of that testing program is that we can select the best available products that work to complement the genetic and trait packages in the Pioneer brand,” he says.

Innovations that have come out of the DuPont pipeline include a product on corn seed called Lumivia, Messman says.

“That product has been introduced now on the newest Pioneer genetics and brings the customer-enhanced insect protection along with a greater likelihood for yield improvement, which is supported by several hundred trials over multiple years,” he says.

“Lumivia brings incremental secondary insect protection and ultimately results in about a 2½-bushel yield increase over our previous standard,” Messman says.

The growing use of seed treatments

The global seed treatment industry is projected to be worth $9.8 billion by 2021, as the demand for multi-functional products grows, analysts say.

Two decades ago, in 1997, global sales of seed treatment products were estimated at $700 million.

Messman says for at least five years, there’s been a rapid increase in adoption of the proprietary Pioneer Premium Seed Treatment offering.

Driving that increase is the farmers’ desire to protect and maximize their seed investment. “They want to ensure that every seed they plant turns into a viable seedling and a productive plant that returns the yield,” he says.

Increasing use of Pioneer Premium Seed Treatment is credited with average yield improvements of 4½ bushels an acre in trials. That comes largely from better emergence, stand and vigor. The treatment protects against soil and seedling diseases such as pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia and fusarium, and insects such as bean leaf beetle, seed corn maggot and soybean aphids.

A second driver in the growing use of seed treatments is the advancement of technology in the marketplace, Messman says.

“Over the last decade,” he says, “you’ve seen several new product introductions, and the value that seed treatments are able to contribute to the farmer has increased as a result of those new technology introductions.”

Limitations of seed treatments

One key limitation: How to decide which product is best for a farmer and his or her specific needs.

There are many combinations available, and DuPont and DuPont Pioneer have invested significantly in research, development and testing capabilities to help farmers decide.

“What that enables us to do is understand how each of these products work first as an individual product,” Messman says. “Secondly, it helps us understand how these product combinations can best be put together for the benefit of the farmer.”

Pioneer uses a vast field trial network to test and select the best available products, and the combinations have been coming to market as the Pioneer Premium Seed Treatment offering.

Another limiting factor, he says, involves the amount of product you can put on a seed.

“You’re physically coating the seed with a liquid product. And many times, the limiting factor for technology adoption is just how much product can you effectively coat onto the seed. To solve that challenge, we have invested in a global network called the DuPont Integrated Seed Science Network,” Messman says.

“Through that network, we invest in creating the best formulations of seed-applied technologies, ensuring that those formulations are compatible with one another,” he says.

Application training and support is offered to deliver the best fully integrated and coated seed product to the farmer, he says.

While companies can get a lot of treatment on a seed, Pedersen agreed there is a limit to the volume that can be applied. “If it’s a high volume of product being applied, you’re going to have to slow down your capacity,” he says.

“Right now, for corn and soybeans, we are close to the limit of the amount of treatment that can be applied to seed. If we want to add additional active ingredients or micronutrients and stuff like that to the seed, we’re going to have to change something in the process to be able to do that and keep our capacities on our seed treaters.”

What’s new for 2017

Monsanto and Novozyme’s new microbial is being fully launched this year.

Acceleron B-300 SAT will be added to Monsanto’s Seed Applied Solutions portfolio. In addition to applying the product to its Dekalb, Channel and regional brands’ new 2017 corn hybrids, Monsanto will offer the product to its licensees and distributors.

B-300 increases plants’ ability to take up nutrients and is an improved version of JumpStart (Penicillium bilaiae), a product that existed in Novozymes’ pipeline before the formation of The BioAg Alliance, Combest says.

At DuPont Pioneer, Lumisena fungicide seed treatment is highly effective on phytophthora. It received regulatory approval in November. There will be wide-scale demonstration plots for growers in 2017 and plans for commercial availability in 2018.

Lumisena will help deliver improved crop establishment and stand uniformity through phytophthora control in soybeans and best-in-class downy mildew control for sunflower crops in the United States.

For corn, Lumivia is being released in eastern Canada in 2017. DuPont Pioneer says it’s the first insecticide seed treatment in Canada using chlorantranilprole, a reduced-risk active ingredient that will help farmers control corn damage from early-season pests. It’s been available to U.S. growers since 2013.

In 2017, Syngenta will expand its Vibrance seed treatment fungicide from cereals, soybeans and canola to potatoes, which will make “a huge difference” for potato growers battling rhizoctonia root and stem rot, Pedersen says.

Downy mildew is the most devastating fungal pathogen that can hit a sunflower field, and Pedersen says Syngenta will offer its new fungicide Plenaris to help sunflower growers in 2017. Plenaris recently received EPA registration, and state registrations are pending.

Trends in seed treatment solutions today

•    Seed sales in the U.S. are $16 billion to $17 billion a year.
•    About 75% of seeds sold have some type of seed treatment.
•    Seed treatment is a $2.9 billion-a-year global business.
•    The global seed-treatment industry is projected to be worth $9.8 billion by 2021.

Historical trends

Global sales of seed treatment products in 1997 were estimated at $700 million.

Seed treatment products, applied to nearly every acre of corn planted in the U.S. in 2011, helped support nearly $80 billion worth of crop value to U.S. farmers.

By 2018, it is estimated that the global fungicide seed treatment market alone will reach $1.4 billion.