Soybean seed treatment adoption continues to expand and become a more important decision, what has changed?

This week I supported a retail customer by meeting with a grower and his 80+ year old father to discuss crop protection plans for the 2018 growing season. During the meeting we started discussing soybean seed treatment products. It was interesting because the father made the comment, “I raised soybeans for nearly 50 years and never planted a treated soybean seed. Now my son is spending twice the amount on soybean seed treatments as I did on the actual soybean seed!”

In reaction, I quickly thought back to my early years in the seed industry and realized that he was exactly right. So, what has changed? The answer is, EVERYTHING about how we grow soybeans; including:

  • Soybean yield levels
  • Earlier planting dates
  • Lower planting populations
  • Cost of soybean seed
  • New SeedGrowthTM products
  • Soybean seed inoculants

Let’s discuss each one of these in a little more detail:

Soybean yield levels – I am confident that back in that gentleman’s farming career he was striving to reach 50-bushel beans. Now, 50-bushel beans won’t pay the bills. Also, when I was at the University of Illinois, I was taught (by excellent professors) that soybeans had a “top-end yield” capability of about 100 bu/A. Today we have the “Randy Dowdy’s of the world” reaching 171 bu/A as the current record holder for soybean yield. The bottom line is that our current soybean germplasm has much more yield potential to protect. Seed treatments help get our soybeans off to a faster and healthier start to help them demonstrate this higher yield potential.

Earlier planting dates – I did my due diligence to try and find some data that would show how much earlier we are planting soybeans than 20 years ago, but I failed. However, I think we all know that we are planting soybeans earlier than in the past, AND planting soybeans earlier has shown some intriguing increases in yield. However, earlier planting means colder soils and, more importantly, more chances of a weather event that can cause saturated soils. It is these types of conditions where soybean seed treatments become extremely valuable in establishing a stand for the highest yield potential. Here is a link to an article about one of innovators of early planting soybeans here in Illinois:

Lower planting population – Some people don’t realize how much our soybean planting populations have come down over the last 15 years. I can remember recommending 220,000 seeds in 7” rows in Northern Illinois. Now we are dropping 130 – 150K. This means that it is more important to have each seed grow and produce to its highest potential for high yields. We are saving on seed population, but each seed is more important to protect. Again, seed treatment helps each seed get off to the best start it can.

Cost of soybean seed – We all know that soybean seed costs more than it used to, but I think we are more ahead because our varieties are also much higher yielding than they used to be. In other words, the seed companies have taken those increases in soybean seed profits and invested in research and development (R&D) and breeding to give the growers higher yielding soybean varieties. Everybody wins. Quite frankly, we used “excess seed” in the past to make sure we had sufficient stands because seed was not expensive. Now it makes more economic sense to use a lesser population, but protect it with seed treatments.

New SeedGrowth products – Bayer is constantly focused on what the biggest yield robbers in soybeans are and working hard to find solutions. ILeVO™ is one of those solutions for Sudden Death Syndrome. Bayer invests money on R&D each year and a large part of this budget is focused on seed treatment products. In fact, we now call our seed treatment products SeedGrowth products. I think this makes sense because they do not treat the seed, they help the seed grow. Help me in changing the term “seed treatment products” to “SeedGrowth products.”

Soybean seed inoculants: Everybody knows that you can’t grow high yield corn without available nitrogen. That is why many growers use a nitrification inhibitor. Use of a nitrification inhibitor is “insurance” to make sure the applied nitrogen is available for that corn crop.

I would suggest that using a soybean seed inoculant is the same type of “insurance” for soybeans. It commonly thought that soybeans require 4.5 – 5 pounds of N per bushel produced. This means a 60-bushel crop will require about 300 pounds of available nitrogen. The soybean seed inoculant provides “insurance” that the correct amount and type of bacteria is in the soil for the soybean plant to produce the nodules needed for the most efficient nitrogen fixation. Not all the nitrogen used by a soybean plant comes from N fixation by nodules, but you still want the most efficient fixation that you can get.

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About the Author: Eric Ifft

Eric Ifft has been a technical consultant with Bayer CropScience since 2008. Contact him at or 309-825-3730.