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Good news for cereal seed quality

By Rachael Melenka, Client Success Manager | 20/20 Seed Labs Inc. 

Western Canada experienced wide-spread heat and drought conditions during the 2021 growing season. Stressful growing conditions during heat and drought can cause physiological challenges during crop development and seed maturity. These changes can lead to decreased seed quality due to low germination and vigour from small and immature seeds. Abiotic stresses can also impart seed dormancy due to increased stress hormone levels during the growing season.

20/20 Seed Labs analyzed germination and vigour of seed samples received from across Alberta between October 15th to November 15th, 2021. Overall, seed quality for wheat and barley has been surprisingly good this fall.

Table 1. The average percentage germination and vigour from Alberta barley, wheat and durum samples. The samples were received and analyzed from October 15th to November 15th, 2021.

The germination percentage is high for cereals throughout most of the regions in Alberta. Barley, wheat and durum germination averages are above 90 per cent. Vigour is also good. The likelihood of significant quality loss during overwinter storage is low.  

Table 2. Observed cereal seed quality issues in Alberta. The samples were received and analyzed from October 15th to November 15th, 2021. ‘Cereals’ include wheat, durum wheat, barley, triticale, rye, and oats.  

Dormancy has been noted in some samples harvested from central-east Alberta (Figure 1). There are minor incidences of frost and seed-borne pathogens; however, it does not appear to be a leading trend. This is expected as the growing conditions were not ideal for high disease pressure, and the warm harvest conditions in most areas of the province reduced the potential for frost damage.

Notably, minimal amounts of chemical injury have been seen in cereal germination tests. “Chemical damage not only affects the potential for seedlings to grow normally into adulthood, but it can also have a negative effect on vigour and the storage life of the seed.” says Carey Matthiessen, Operations Manager and Senior Seed Analyst at 20/20 Seed Labs. Producers who use desiccant should indicate this on seed sample submissions so analysts can contact them with testing options to help determine whether seed use is recommended.

Figure 1. Map of Alberta showing counties and municipal districts where dormancy has been detected in wheat, durum wheat, barley, triticale, rye, and oat germination tests. Results are from samples completed from August to November 2021.  

Table 3. The Average Thousand Kernel Weight (grams) of barley, wheat, and durum for 2021, 2020, and 2019. The reporting period includes the harvest samples received during 2021 (Aug. 2021-Oct. 2021), 2020 (Aug. 2020-Jun. 2021), and 2019 (Aug. 2019-Jun. 2020). 

This year, the average Thousand Kernel Weight (TKW) for wheat and durum wheat is lower than in previous years. Average TKW for barley was slightly higher as compared to samples received in 2020 and 2019, and this could be due to 2021 data only including this fall’s samples. As more barley samples are received, a drop in the reported average may be seen (Table 3). Some cereal samples with green seeds have been seen in seed sample analysis. Green seed can affect germination, vigour, and moisture results. Producers concerned with green seed or lighter kernels are recommended to test for germination, vigour, TKW and moisture to determine proper storage of the seed lot over the winter. This information will also assist in seeding rate accuracy for the 2022 season. Lighter and smaller seeds can affect plant stand counts this upcoming growing season if seeding rates are not adjusted.

Fusarium graminearum

In 2021, 5.5 per cent of wheat, durum wheat, barley, and oat samples tested in our lab from Alberta were positive for Fusarium graminearum (Fg). When compared to November 2020, this is a considerable decrease year-over-year. Last year, 15 per cent of samples tested positive for Fg, with the highest infection rates observed in the east-central Alberta region.

Figure 2. Map of Alberta showing the per cent of samples testing positive on the plate method for F. graminearum from each county or municipal district in from August 2021-November 2021. 

“As we continue to test more samples, we are getting a better picture of where F. graminearum will be an issue for seed in the province”, says Trevor Blois, Disease Diagnostician at 20/20 Seed Labs. Currently, 19 counties or municipal districts in Alberta have had cereal samples that tested positive for F. graminearum.

Seed quality and disease results may change as more samples are submitted to the lab and trends may appear in different areas of the province. To assist farmers and agronomists to make data-driven business and crop production decisions, 20/20 Seed Labs publishes monthly seed health, seed quality and disease reports in The Incubator newsletter. Subscribe today and get insider knowledge on Alberta’s most common crop diseases, exclusive testing opportunities, and comprehensive data reports.

If you have any questions about the data in this article, testing recommendations, or are interested in subscribing to The Incubator newsletter, please contact our Nisku, Alberta laboratory at 1-877-420-2099 or email support@2020seedlabs.ca.