A new seed technology being tested in Weslaco could mean the end of early insecticide sprays on some vegetables. Called “film coating,” the technology is a process that treats seeds with insecticides and other materials to manage insects.

“Film coated seeds are still being tested here and elsewhere, but results so far look very promising,” said T-X Liu, an integrated pest management entomologist at the Texas A&M Agricultural University System Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

Liu has planted treated seeds of various fall crops and is monitoring them weekly for insect damage. The infant plants are already showing insect resistance compared to a control plot of plants from untreated seeds.

“It is far too early to make any definitive determinations,” he said, “but in our first weekly evaluation, we saw that the treated plants didn't have the leaf damage from cabbage loopers and diamondback moths that we saw in the untreated plants.”

The seed treatment process was borrowed from the food and pharmaceutical industries, and developed for agricultural applications by Cornell University professor Alan Taylor at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

Taylor's lab is one of a few university facilities in the country set up to treat seed with coatings of systemic insecticides that protect a plant from soil-borne and leaf-chewing insects.

Taylor said seed coating promises huge environmental and financial advantages for specialty, or minor-use crops such as vegetables.

“Seed coating means growers can use very small amounts of insecticides per acre,” Taylor said. “The systemic aspect of the insecticides on the seeds gives protection from insects for about 30 days, meaning that growers can avoid the costs and labor of foliar insecticide sprays, as well as having to physically handle those insecticides.”

Longer-term vegetable crops, such as onions, would require conventional insecticide sprays to control insects after 30 days, Taylor said.

As part of a U. S. Department of Agriculture IR-4 project, Liu is testing seed-treated onions for resistance to onion maggots and onion thrips.