Seed Treatment: Facts and Guidelines

Seed is the one element without which a grain farmer can’t even call himself a farmer. Other inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, merely play a supportive role to seed, but can transform a harvest from valuable to highly profitable. As technology changes, so crop production potential increases and pesticides or crop protection products are some of the tools that make crops highly productive. In the old days, crop protection products were added in the furrows, but in modern agriculture seed protection is more targeted against diseases, insects and nematodes by applying pesticides directly to the seed.

Seed coating with crop protection products isn’t just a matter of “pour and blend”.  It requires knowledge and focused equipment to effectively treat the seed with the prescribed products. Furthermore, it’s important that the seed treatment products effectively bind to the seed to ensure that chemicals do not pollute the environment during planting, thereby posing a possible risk to valuable organisms such as honey bees. Some seed treatment products are extremely poisonous to bees, such as neonicotinoids and pyrethroids, but if they are applied correctly and in the right conditions, the risk to bees is completely eliminated.

The big question concerning seed treatment is who is allowed to do it?  Is it only the seed breeders such as the famous seed companies, the agrochemical agent or the operative? Or may producers do it themselves? This is a difficult question with an equally complex answer as it depends on various sets of legislation. It’s also a matter of how effectively seed treatment can be done by various role-players.

Technically, any person who buys an agrochemical may legally only apply it according to the label instructions. Therefore, no one can prevent a producer from buying a pesticide and treating his seeds with it. Act Nr. 36 of 1947 which governs all agrochemicals, only requires the producer to adhere to the label instructions. However, sometimes a producer needs to make use of other entities to perform certain tasks, and that is where Act Nr. 36 of 1947 comes in with restrictions. As soon as a person or company applies a pesticide on behalf of someone else (the Act calls it “in business operations”), then that person must be registered as a pest control operator in terms of the Act. This is necessary because the service providers offer a specialised service that requires training and specific knowledge, as well as experience. The seed industry association, SANSOR, and CropLife South Africa, is of the opinion that seed treatment should not be taken lightly and that it needs to be done with equipment of specific standards if it is to be successful. It’s also important to understand that some products are not compatible with others.

From the perspective of Act Nr. 36 of 1947, the producer needs to ensure that whoever treats the seed on his behalf, fulfils the following requirements:

  • Only agrochemicals that are registered as seed treatment products may be used
  • The products must strictly be blended according to the prescription in order to provide sufficient seed protection. Take special note of the dosage, which is indicated in grams or millilitre per mass seed or amount of seed kernels, on the label.
  • The person or company should be registered as a pest control operator with the Registrar of Act Nr. 36 of 1947 and must posses a card with a P-number.
  • The seed treatment must be done with the correct equipment indoors where wind won’t cause dust.
  • A polymer that binds the product to the seed must be used
  • The seed must be dried sufficiently after the treatment to prevent fungal infections.

Other legislation that plays a role in seed treatment is the Plant Improvement Act Nr. 53 of 1976.  This Act, along with its regulations, prescribe that the premises where the seed is treated must be registered in terms of the Act. Interestingly, the Act uses the term “cleaning” and defines it as depuration or any other treatment with the goal of applying the plant material (including seed) for reproduction. The regulations also require certain record keeping after treating the seeds in order to ensure the correct seeds were treated with the correct products. Luckily the Act determines that someone who treats his own seed does not need to have his premises registered.

All these requirements sound like a witch hunt, but think about it: seed is most precious part of the agricultural inputs and if something goes wrong with the seed, it’s not even worth planting. This is why the Acts make such strong statements in order to ensure that the producer’s asset, namely the seed, is sufficiently protected.

Seed purchased from SANSOR member companies are already treated with insecticides and fungicides, therefore, there’s no need to apply other pesticides.  It does happen, however, that biological products such as inoculants are applied to promote growth. The disadvantage of this practice is that the seeds need to be planted immediately after treatment. Again, its worthwhile to ensure that the process is conducted properly so as to ensure seed integrity.

CropLife SA recommends that producers purchase seed that is already treated by the seed manufacturer. They use specialised equipment and special polymers, which makes the seed treatment utterly effective and professional. In addition, audit processes are also involved such as testing the seed after treatment for chemical charge and germination power.  The products bought from a reputable seed company are guaranteed products that will ensure a good yield. If untreated seed is purchased and someone offers to treat it, first ensure that the offered service is registered and satisfies the requirements. Seed that’s compromised because of poor seed treatment can cost a producer the entire production season.

It’s also necessary to determine whether the prescribed product is actually registered for seed treatment or not.  This information can be obtained from CropLife SA’s powerful search engine, AgriIntel. For peace of mind about your choice of seed treatment products visit to see if it’s registered for the purpose.

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