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Wheat Farmers: Don't Plant Saved Seed

Planting wheat seed saved from previous years' production has been a common practice in years past. Continuing to do so these days, however, could cost you more than it's worth – unless you treat it before you plant it.

Whether transmitted via the soil or the seed itself, disease can cause myriad levels of crop loss all the way up to completely totaling out a crop. That makes planting certified treated seed a must these days, says one wheat disease expert.

"It is best to buy certified treated seed or use a commercial seed conditioner to clean and treat seed. Seed treated on-farm should be cleaned before treatment. Thorough coverage maximizes effectiveness of the seed treatment," says University of Nebraska Extension plant pathologist Stephen Wegulo. "Fungicide seed treatments help to reduce losses caused by seed transmitted and soilborne fungal diseases of wheat. Some seed treatment products contain a fungicide and an insecticide and offer additional protection against fall-season insects such as aphids."

It's important to distinguish between seed- and soilborne diseases when enlisting seed treatments to keep your wheat seed healthy in the ground. That's because it can dictate what products you use to treat your seed or what certified seed you buy, Wegulo says. Seed-transmitted diseases like common bunt and ergot can total out a crop in the worst case and can lead to rejection of the grain when you pull into the elevator. On the other hand, soilborne diseases like Pythium root rot and Fusarium rot can also cause immense crop damage by weakening roots and plant crowns, making the plants "vulnerable to attack by other pests." The way the two different classes of disease affect seed and young plants may be different, but they can both be controlled by systemic fungicides.

"In addition to loss in quantity, [seed-transmitted] diseases also lower grain quality and therefore value because affected grain is downgraded. [Soilborne] diseases often go unnoticed because they affect the roots and crowns and are less visible than foliar diseases. However, they cause significant yield loss resulting from poor stand establishment," Wegulo says. "Seed-transmitted and soilborne fungal diseases of wheat are effectively controlled by planting certified, fungicide-treated seed. Because some of these diseases are internally seedborne, systemic fungicides are recommended. Avoid planting farm-saved seed from previous years."

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