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Put Seed to the Test

July 29, 2011
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Doug Rupp Missy Bauer
With help from Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer and an ongoing investment in saturated cold germination tests before planting, Doug Rupp has been able to improve corn quality and yield results.   

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Germination testing validates quality and vigor

Some seed corn can germinate and thrive in cold, wet spring soils. Some can’t. The challenge is to know, before you plant, which seed has a high enough germination rate to handle harsh weather conditions. That can help you determine when to plant or, in extreme cases, whether you need to return the seed to your supplier.

Doug Rupp learned these lessons this past spring as a result of investing in saturated cold germination tests. One seed lot he tested indicated that only 20% of the seed would likely germinate if planted in cold, wet soils.

"I sent 70 bags of seed back that had a problem I wasn’t aware of until the tests were done," says Rupp, who farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Stryker, Ohio


The experience has given Rupp a new perspective on the value of germination tests. "I used to be reluctant about sending seed off to be tested, but not anymore," he says.

A choice of tests. Hundreds of farmers who practice precision farming are investing in annual seed testing, says Tim Gutormson, seed services director for SGS North America in Brookings, S.D. "Vigor tests provide another piece of information that can help rank the planting order of seed lots to achieve a targeted plant population," he adds.

SGS receives requests from corn growers for four types of seed tests: standard germination, cold germination, saturated cold germination and the pericarp damage test. The tests range between $16 and $35, and farmers typically invest $75 to $100 per lot in testing, Gutormson says.

The standard germination test, or warm test, is conducted under optimum conditions to see what the maximum germination level is for seed.  This seed germ percentage is what usually is represented on the bags or containers of seed you purchase.

The cold test involves planting the seed under 1" of sand that has a 70% water-holding capacity. The idea is to simulate being planted in wet, 50°F soils.  The seed is stressed in this manner for seven days and then moved into a chamber with a temperature of 75°F to determine its germination rate.

The saturated cold test is the most stressful cold vigor test SGS conducts, Gutormson says.  The seed is placed in 1⁄8" of soil at 50°F and is then saturated with water to represent 100% of a field’s water-holding capacity. This restricts the seed’s ability to take up oxygen/exchange gases and creates respiratory stress in addition to stress from the cold water uptake.

"The saturated cold test simulates severe conditions that farmers may face only one out of every 10 years," Gutormson says.

The pericarp damage test involves the seed being soaked in a solution of water and a dye. The dye colors the places where there are breaks and damage to the seed coat.

This test is particularly useful to farmers who want to use starter fertilizer in the seed furrow, says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist.

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RELATED TOPICS: Agronomy, Production, Seed

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