The Planted Row: Take a second look at seed treatments

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

Well, it’s happened again.

Another study has been published with evidence that in northern states, under most circumstances, neonicotinoid soybean seed treatments don’t boost yields and don’t improve a farmer’s bottom line, even during outbreaks of soybean aphids. You can read an article from Perdue University about this study at

This study wasn’t funded by an organic-promoting organization. It wasn’t funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. It was a two-year study funded by farmers through soybean checkoff funds and conducted across seven states in our region, where most of the soybeans in this country are grown.

The study found that the neonic seed coating only provides about two weeks of coverage, but soybean aphids didn’t reach spray-threshold levels until later in the summer. So unless your fields are highly susceptible to wireworms, grubs, seedcorn maggots, or high populations of bean leaf beetles, chances are good the seed treatment won’t do you any good, and you still might have to spray later in the summer.

But what about the supposed increased levels of plant vigor from seeds treated with the neonic thiamethoxam? I spoke on the phone this week with one of the authors of the study, Christian Krupke, an entomology professor and Extension specialist at Purdue University. He told me that he wasn’t aware that increased plant vigor had ever been confirmed in a peer-reviewed study and that whether it exists, it didn’t have any effect on yields in his study.

Sustained low commodity prices has everyone talking about how farmers need to cut every unnecessary expense. With more than half of soybean acres being planted with neonic-treated seed, how can so many of farmers justify something that won’t likely provide much benefit? Also, how can we continue to justify putting so much insecticide into the environment with no good reason? (I’m no tree hugger, but I don’t think we should use chemicals without a good reason.)

Well, for one, it might not be so easy unbundle your neonic seed treatment from other treatments (often sold as a package) when ordering seed. Two, it might just be “what we’ve always done.”

If you can’t unbundle your neonic seed treatment from your other treatments, then you should let your seed dealer know that’s something you want. If you’re using neonic seed treatments just for insurance in a northern climate, it’s time to realize that doing the right thing for the environment, in this case, means doing the right thing for your bottom line.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the article. Read the studies. Talk to university-integrated pest management experts. Read this Extension publication about the effectiveness of neonic seed treatments at Getting your information from unbiased, peer-reviewed sources is key to making the best decisions for your farm.

Celebrating farming fathers

The Farm Forum and six area businesses, GCR Tires & Service, Titan Machinery, Harr Motors, House of Glass, Common Sense Manufacturing, and Graham Tire, are teaming up to honor our farming fathers. We will be giving away several surprise field lunches for the winners, their families and planting crews just in time for Father’s Day.

We need nominations for these great farm dads, and we want to hear from you about how the nominee inspires you not only as a farmer but as individuals in your family, neighborhood or community. Nominations can be mailed to the Farm Forum directly, or you can nominate your farming father online at by May 31.