Seed Treatment Q&A: Insight from Iowa State’s Alison Robertson

Technology has changed drastically since the 1990s. Televisions are thinner, phones are smaller and tractors can steer themselves. Technology has even improved in the seeds that we plant, according to an article on Since the 1990s, and particularly within the past decade, soybean seed treatments have become a common tool for ag retailers and farmers from all regions. Some use them as insurance against poor germination rates. Others like the protection against seedling diseases when planting in cold, wet soils.


Providing high-quality soybean products to end-users won’t happen if a seed doesn’t sprout. Alison Robertson, Ph.D., Department Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Iowa State University, helps navigate the seed treatment selection process.

Q: How should farmers and ag retailers select a seed treatment?

A: Seed treatments may contain active ingredients such as fungicides, insecticides or nematicides to control pathogens and pests, and biological products for growth promotion. The first thing we look for is whether a seed treatment is designed for one specific purpose or if it offers a range of benefits. Typically, a farmer should use a seed treatment with three or four active ingredients, because of the diverse set of pathogens in the soil.

Q: What are the primary reasons farmers and ag retailers should use seed treatments?

A: Most soybean pathologists recommend a seed treatment if you are planting into cold, wet soils. Also, if there’s a history of poor stand establishment, if you are planting lower populations or planting into poor seedbed conditions. Depending on your individual farm circumstances, it might not be necessary to use seed treatments on all your acres.

Q: What should farmers and ag retailer who use seed treatments look for after planting?

A: Some treatments can slightly damage the plants, so after emergence a farmer should scout his or her fields and see if there is any burning on the cotyledons. This isn’t a sign that anything is wrong, but it does provide evidence that the treatment has worked. After a couple of days, the plants grow out of the damage, and research indicates that yield is not affected.

Q: Are there new or recent developments with seed treatment technology?

A: There has been quite a lot of work looking at biologicals, not as stand-alone treatments, but in partnership with treatments that address pathogens in the field. In addition, nematicides have been developed recently to help fight off soybean nematodes.

Q: Other than seed companies, where should farmers go for more information on seed treatments?

A: First, your local land-grant universities, extension offices and extension newsletters are excellent sources of regional information. You can also visit the Plant Management Network for more information about seedling diseases.

Leave a Reply