August 28, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Farmers should have their wheat seed checked for germination rates if they are not buying certified seed to ensure that seed quality is sufficient to produce good stands when planted this fall.

“It was brought to my attention that there may be a seed quality issue, so the people who are potentially affected may want to look into this,” said Don Hershman, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension plant pathologist. “It is not a huge problem but is a variable situation.”

Based on seeds sent to the UK seed-testing laboratory, some of the seed lots are showing substandard germination rates, he said. Low germination in these seed lots appears to be caused by Fusarium infection, which is the cause of head scab in wheat.

Kentucky’s wheat fields this spring saw a moderate level of head scab with some fields showing little while others were heavily affected. This was the heaviest infection the state had seen for several years but less than in other years.

“We are finding that this problem also may not be directly related with how much head scab appeared to be in the field because in fields where yields and test weights were good, there is still some that are showing low germination rates and high levels of Fusarium infection,” he said.

If a farmer is buying certified seed, they need not worry about germination, Hershman said. This is because in order for seed to be certified for commercial sales, it must have a germination rate of greater than 85 percent.

A lot of the seed lots that have been going to the UK seed testing lab are showing germination rates of anywhere from the 60s to low 80s. For someone who plans on planting seed he or a neighbor has grown, they need to be aware of this potential problem, he said.

“One of the things we found in 1991 when we had a severe epidemic of head scab, was that many of the seeds in harvested seed lots were not viable,” he said. “But, we were able to survive by severely conditioning the seed and applying certain fungicides which killed the Fusarium and allowed the seeds to germinate successfully when planted.”

A seed conditioner who is certified to apply them should apply these fungicide treatments due to the extreme importance of achieving excellent seed coverage.

“Don’t assume that seed is good or is bad,” Hershman said. “Have it properly conditioned and tested for germination and if the germination is not acceptable, there is a very good chance it can be enhanced 15 percent or more by using an appropriate seed treatment fungicide.”


Don Hershman, (270) 365-7541