Treating soybean seed is a good risk management tool for a relatively small investment per acre. It is usually not done at a seed plant, but rather at a dealer’s seed warehouse, and can be applied before delivery. Making the decision to treat soybean seed has to remain flexible until the very last moment because once the seed is treated, you own it, can’t return it (like corn seed), can’t market it as grain and can’t store it until next year. So you plant it or dispose of it.

When soybeans were first adopted as a grain crop, no one treated the seed. First, it was considered unnecessary, as it was planted later than corn; second, if you wanted to treat it you had to do it yourself and it was inconvenient and messy; and third, when you planted at 180,000, 200,000 or 220,000 seeds per acre you could afford to lose 20,000 seeds and not worry.

When farmers wanted to treat soybean seed they usually resorted to planter box treatments and only applied a peat-based inoculant or sprayed a liquid on seed as it moved through a seed auger into seed boxes on a planter. However, today things have changed as seed costs have risen and growers reduce population to save on seed cost and are planting earlier when soil conditions aren’t ideal. Seed treatments have become an important decision.

Today when buying a seed treatment product you have multiple choices of company brands and products. Products include: fungicides, insecticides and nematicides; inoculants of different sorts; and micronutrients and growth stimulants. The list of individual products is too long to mention. With today’s seed treatment technology, low application rates and dealers prepared to treat seed, you can easily apply a crop protection or enhancement product to the seed and it is cost effective and convenient.

However, when buying seed you may never know what you are getting unless you ask since dealers align themselves with seed companies, who in turn align themselves with individual seed treatment manufacturers. Your choices are usually limited to fungicide, fungicide plus insecticide and whether to add in a rhizobium inoculum. Most fungicides today contain two or three active ingredients.

Seed treatments offer a myriad of benefits depending on the products applied. They protect the seed from rot; the seedling from blight, damping off and soil-borne diseases and insects; prevent early infestations of aphids and bean leaf beetles; reduce the numbers of soybean cyst nematodes infecting roots; supply enhanced strains of nitrogen-fixing rhizobium and other bacterial inoculants; deliver a supply of micronutrients to prevent deficiencies; and add growth regulator products that stimulate early seedling and root growth.

And new products continue to come to market and older products are being questioned for their economic benefit. Bayer is bringing their first seed treatment to market to control SDS in a product called ILeVo®. Treating seed with insecticides has become popular and there are several neonicotinoid products now on the market. However last fall the EPA released a report that showed that neonicotinoid insecticides (that control aphids and bean leaf beetles) do not provide a yield benefit and questioned the economic justification for their use.

As a result of using seed treatments, you may see faster and more even emergence, more consistent plant stands and potentially greater yield potential. And while seed treatments work, they won’t be effective every year across every acre. Consider it one of the risk management tools you deploy to ensure a good stand, healthy crop and greater yield.

How do you approach whether to use a seed treatment and what products to apply on seed? Please leave a comment below.

Agronomist Dr. Daniel Davidson posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at

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About the Author: Dan Davidson

Soybean agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D., posts blogs on topics related to soybean agronomy. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.