When you are a student of history (like myself), it’s oftentimes fascinating to realize just how many times really useful discoveries and new technologies were stumbled upon by lucky accident. For example, the wonder drug penicillin was uncovered when scientist Alexander Fleming accidentally left an uncovered petri dish in his lab. This attracted mold spores, which turned out to produce a substance that effectively killed the bacteria that had been growing there.
According to the history books, seed treatment followed a similar accidental path to realization. The discovery of the benefits of seed treatment resulted back in the early 17th century, when a load of grain was rescued from a shipwreck. This grain seed, which had been soaking in salty seawater for quite some time before its recovery, showed much healthier crop yields after planting and harvest than unsoaked grain seeds planted in nearby fields. This ultimately led to growers experimenting with seed treatments utilizing salt water, copper salts, hot water, and arsenic (which was eventually banned because of its toxic side effects during the early 19th century).
From these humble beginnings, today’s seed treatment industry has grown into an almost $3 billion global business. According to most experts, it’s virtually impossible to find seed corn in the U.S. that isn’t sporting some form of seed treatment. And for soybeans, market watchers estimate approximately 60% of this seed in 2016 featured some form of seed treatment — almost double the percentage at the start of the 2010s.
“This is a very exciting era for the seed treatment industry and I think it’s beneficial across the board — for the agrochemical companies, the coatings and polymers companies, and the ag retailers, as well as the growers themselves,” says American Seed Trade Association President/CEO Andy LaVigne. “The rapid growth we’re seeing in the market today to me is a symbol of the benefit and safety of the technology, and we’re very excited about it.”