Seed treatments are a useful way to deliver pest and disease management products into the growing cycle. Their application can improve yields for a wide variety of crops. Many of the most common crops are pre-treated with the relevant chemicals or biological organisms.
Seed treatment solutions must undergo supervised field trials before they are offered onto the market. This allows the collection of necessary data to prove the product is safe and complies with regulatory requirements governing the protection of the environment, local ecology, and human health.
SGS Group, as a world leader in field trials, can offer turnkey services for the industry throughout the whole seed treatment solution R&D cycle. In an interview with Amanda Ver Helst, Laboratory Research Manager at SGS, we learned more about how SGS could help the market and farmers to have standards-compliant treated seeds.
Amanda Ver Helst
Laboratory Research Manager at SGS Group
From various market forecasts data, the seed treatment industry has a very good development prospect. What do you think are the main factors that drive the growth of this sector?
Protecting seedlings against seed and soil borne fungi, and insects, and allowing them to establish a strong rooting system is the main objective of seed treatment solutions. A strong seedling is the basis for resilient crops, higher yields or better performance. Seed treatment solutions allow seed health and seed nutrition/soil improvement aspects to be combined in one technology. This approach, also known as seed care solutions, can be tailored to different soil/climate conditions and cropping cycles for the same seed variety.
The dose rate for chemically treated seeds is lower, compared to repeat spray application of the same active ingredient, therefore the environmental impact is reduced.
Also, with pests forming resistance to traditional chemical products on the market, new chemistries and biopesticide products need to be developed.
Additionally, environmental and health concerns associated with some chemical seed treatments and active ingredients, mean microbial products including biostimulants and biopesticides are gaining momentum as supplements or alternatives to chemical treatments/products. In which case, the compatibility of the different solutions added to seeds, such as microbial organisms and chemicals, need to be assessed to avoid negative impacts on the efficacy of products or overall performance of seedlings.
Seed treatment solutions today however are more heavily regulated than pre-2008 when bee deaths in Europe were linked to dust-off from treated seeds during corn planting.
What services can SGS provide for the seed treatment industry? What are the advantages of SGS’s seed treatment testing service?
SGS aims to provide turnkey services for the industry throughout the whole seed treatment solution R&D cycle.
We perform seed batch characterization services for seed grading, physical purity, genetic purity, seed germination and vigor rate, and seed health testing. For chemical treatments, our in-house analytical laboratories perform seed treatments, seed treatment application verification (STAV) and homogeneity of treatment testing. In conjunction with microbial laboratories, we test microbial inoculum products and count colony forming units (CFU) in seed treatment products and on treated seeds.
Compatibility testing of seed treatment solutions is carried out in combination with shelf life studies, and the physico/chemical properties of the spray tank mixture are assessed.
Finally, treated seeds need to demonstrate their performance in flowability and plantability tests for farming equipment/brands.
SGS laboratories are accredited to the relevant standards, e.g. GEP, GLP, ISO, to test seed treatment solutions during research, development or as a final product.
Why do we need to test the treated seeds? Take Europe as an example, what are the regulatory requirements for seed treatment?
SGS does not offer regulatory services but does work for regulatory consulting groups. We need to know the regulatory environment to consult with clients on the feasibility of their projects and to establish appropriate testing programs.
We offer effect/efficacy and performance, as well as environmental and human safety testing for seed treatment solutions or treated seeds both in laboratories and field trials.
Testing can be carried out under controlled conditions in growth chambers, R&D greenhouses or in supervised field trials under real conditions (protected or open field). As many seed treatment active ingredients are of systemic behavior, SGS also provides residue testing in crops or the environment. High exposure to chemicals can occur during the mixing and loading of seeds, or the planting of treated seeds, for which we perform operator exposure studies.
After successful registration of an active ingredient and seed treatment product, further safety measures are part of the seed treatment stewardship program.
For Europe, dust-off measurements using the Heubach test were introduced in Germany in 2008 to limit exposure for pollinators and other non-target organisms to dust generated by treated seeds during planting.
Dust-off reference values have been established for several crops:
• Corn: 0.75g of dust/100,000 seeds
• Oilseed rape: 0.50g of dust/700,000 seeds
• Sugar beet: 0.25g of dust/100,000 seed pellets
• Sunflower: 0.40g of dust/75,000 seeds
• Cereals: 4g of dust/100kg
• Carrots, endives: 0.1g of dust/100,000 seeds
• Onions: 0.2g of dust/100,000 seeds
• Sweetcorn: 0.75g of dust/100,000 seeds
• Green and seeded beans: 0.4g of dust/100,000 seeds
• Vegetable peas: 0.2g of dust/100,000 seeds
SGS has worked with the European Seed Association (ESA) to establish the seed treatment facility certification scheme (ESTA).
ESTA assures that treated seeds exceeding the dust reference values or legal requirements, if lower, will not be put on the market.
What are the specific steps involved in the seed treatment testing?
Based on the above-mentioned aspects, SGS has established a step by step approach for those who have a good idea or believe they can add a new solution to seeds. To develop a new seed treatment solution we propose a six-step process.
Step One: Determine acceptable loading rate and treatment coverage on experimental compounds
Step Two: Determine initial seed germination and vigor ensuring no immediate phytotoxic events occur due to the chemistry
Step Three: Seed treatment application (client innovation + chemical) to determine the treatment capability and load rate for experimental compounds when mixed with other commercial products
Step Four: Ongoing seed safety study to determine if the experimental compounds have any negative effects on treated seeds during storage
Step Five: Compatibility testing with microbial/chemical mixes, or compatibility across different chemistries used together in an application, to determine that products are compatible with each other and/or that contact with commercial chemicals that will be applied together has no negative effect on the microbial formulations
Step Six: Dust-off testing, plantability and flowability testing to determine how the experimental compounds will affect seed flow through treating and planting equipment and the dust-off potential of the products
In which countries can SGS provide seed treatment testing services? What is your company’s international expansion plan on seed treatment testing service?
For the R&D phase SGS has established Centers of Excellence in South Dakota, USA and France, Europe. Quality control testing of treated seeds is established in many more laboratories in the USA and Europe, where dust limit values are enforced and independent testing is required.
We will further invest in the Center of Excellence approach for seed treatment solutions and plan to extend services for GLP testing in microbiology. With a global network of 2,600 offices and laboratories we can rapidly replicate procedures and technology as needed.
What do you think of the development prospect of seed treatment industry? How about seed treatment testing industry?
Seed treatment prospects are linked to increasing pressure on the industry to reduce the use of chemicals and mineral fertilizers, and to innovative solutions. In soil microbiome research we now have a better understanding of the interaction between microbial and plant.
The results of nutrient mobilization of some soil organisms added by seed treatment are amazing.
This will offer the ability to add beneficial microorganism or natural products to seeds and new product types like biostimulants, and soil improvement products can be added to support seedlings from the beginning.
There is also the issue of microplastics in agricultural fields. Replacing synthetic plastic with natural polymers with similar properties but a better degradation pattern is the key.
Regarding seed treatment testing, the advancement of new chemistries and biological or biopesticide and biostimulant products, will require an ongoing and evolving need to test these products, as outlined above, to ensure they will be safe and effective.
As an observer, I see multinational companies investing in proprietary seed treatment facilities, but SGS is not in the contract manufacturing world and cannot assess the impact this has globally.
For me it is obvious that the inclusion of microbial or natural ingredients to a seed treatment solution is a challenge. Testing for microorganisms is a new challenge for all chemical companies. Even existing testing laboratories cannot handle this kind of product in a routine food, cosmetics or pharma laboratory. Instead, a separate set up is required for microbial testing of biopesticides and biostimulants.
This is why SGS has invested into this sector recently.
This article was initially published in AgroPages '2020 Market Insight' magazine. Download it to read more articles.