For some wheat farmers, professionally grown seed may prove very expensive this season, and there could be a lot of temptation to plant seed saved on the farm instead.

But farm-saved seed may not be as much of a bargain as it might appear, says Jan Spears, North Carolina Extension seed specialist.

“If you are in the business of growing wheat, you cannot afford thin stands,” she says. “And you cannot afford to spread weed seeds or seedborne diseases throughout your farm.”

The seeds you plant set the maximum yield potential for your crop, and the highest yield potential comes from matching variety characteristics to your particular needs and getting a good fall stand.

“Your best assurance of getting high yields and high quality wheat is planting professionally grown seed,” says Spears.

Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that bin-run seed and even custom-cleaned seed is frequently of low quality, and this can lead to disaster. “The risks associated with farmer-saved seed can result in higher production costs later in the season,” says Spears.

Before planting farmer-saved seed, consider these risks carefully.

In North Carolina, wheat seed purchased from a dealer may range in cost from $13 to $15 per 50-pound bag for publicly or privately developed varieties.

At a seeding rate of 1.5 million seeds per acre, the cost could range from $20 to $31 per acre. (This assumes that seed size ranges from 11,000 to 14,000 seeds per pound and 1.5 million seeds with at least 90 percent germination are planted per acre, resulting in plantings from 101 to 129 pounds per acre.)

Higher seeding rates leading to higher costs may be required for farmer-saved seed because its germination is usually below that of professionally grown seed.

“Growers often double the seeding rate for bin-run seed,” says Spears.

“At today’s wheat prices, doubling the seeding rate may save the grower only around a dollar per acre in seed costs.”

Saved seed may be contaminated with diseases such as loose smut, Stagonospora nodorum blotch (SNB) or head scab. If the seed was produced using no-till methods, the chances of SNB or scab contamination are increased.

“If loose smut, SNB or head scab were present in the field the small grain that was harvested from, the grain should not be used for seed,” says Spears. “Doing so would contaminate the new crop.”

That may result in reduced yield, lower test weight and the potential need to apply a foliar fungicide.

“This additional cost can be avoided by planting the appropriate variety from professionally grown seed stock,” she says.

Guidelines offered

Here are some guidelines for growing wheat to successfully save seed for next year, says Jeff Edwards, Oklahoma Extension small grains specialist.

• Sow enough certified seed each year to provide seed for sowing the following year. This ensures varietal purity and provides access to new varieties.

• Save seed only from weed-free fields and clean all harvest equipment thoroughly before entering seed wheat fields.

• Apply a fungicide and don’t save seed from fields infested with loose smut or common bunt.

• Store seed in a low-moisture environment and protect from insects.

• Always perform a germination test and seed count prior to sowing and adjust seeding rates accordingly.  

• Apply a fungicide or insecticide seed treatment to aid with seedling establishment and survival.

You can apply your own seed treatment, but be sure you get thorough coverage of the seed, says Edwards. There are auger-mounted seed treaters available that can apply a treatment to the seed as it is augured into the drill.

“Read and follow labels carefully as there are many different formulations of seed treatments,” he says. “Some require dilution with water and some do not. Know which system works best for you and how to calculate the cost per unit of active ingredient to accurately compare prices among products.”

Using saved seed is a bigger question in some states than others. In Tennessee, for instance, wheat growers normally use a lot of bin run seed.

“Unless acreage is up significantly elsewhere in the U.S., we usually don’t have a seed supply problem,” says Chris Main, Tennessee Extension cotton and small grains specialist. “Most of our growers who are trying to grow high-yielding wheat buy commercial seed.”

But many grow wheat as a rotation or cover crop, and they are more likely to use bin-run seed.

There are two big concerns about seed wheat this year, and both affect the appeal of bin-run seed, says Kim Anderson, Oklahoma Extension agricultural economist in a recent interview. One concern is the limited supply available while the other is the cost of producing it.

“The cost to produce an acre of seed wheat is about $380,” says Anderson. “Seed producers will have to charge $17 to $20 per bushel for seed wheat (to break even). Producers need to prepare for a short supply of seed wheat and for it to be more expensive than previous years.”

But that doesn’t make turning to bin-run seed a wise strategy, he says.

“The market is very sensitive to quality,” he says. “It wants clean, good test-weight, good-protein-level wheat that can move into the food market.”

That will be hard to produce with farm-saved seed of unproven quality.

“If they do not use quality seed, they are going to limit their ability to get the quality product…and limit the price they get for their crop in 2012,” says Anderson.

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