Letters to the Editor

ASTA Response to Seed Treatment Article

The views expressed are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of DTN, its management or employees.


To the Editor:

DTN's recent article on treated seed correctly states that the use of treated seed has grown steadily over the past decade. These innovative tools have been widely adopted by growers for good reason -- not only are they highly effective, but their extremely targeted, precise approach allows them to be a critical component of safe integrated pest management (IPM) practices and reduces the need for farmers to apply products over the entire field -- resulting in benefits for both growers and the environment. Most importantly, it is an important tool to protect valuable seed from soil born pests and disease through germination and emergence. On behalf of ASTA's members, I want to take this opportunity to provide context and clarity on several key points that are essential to a full understanding of this topic.


Seed treatments enable earlier and faster planting; stronger, more uniform stands; optimal plant populations; and healthier plants that help increase productivity. Because some pests can damage the seed or seedling to the extent that there are no rescue treatment options available and the plants may either die or not produce a harvestable yield, seed treatments give farmers confidence that they are proactively managing early-season risk and minimizing the expense and environmental impact of replanting. In the U.S., neonic seed treatments have increased crop yields by an average of 3.6% for soybeans to 71.3% for potatoes, compared to untreated acres. And in U.S. corn, the average yield increase was 17.8% (2014 AgInfomatics study). In fact, over 20 academics -- including Shawn Conley and Christian Krupke, who are cited by DTN as skeptical of the benefits of seed treatments on soybeans -- issued a study, which, despite its entire premise, clearly shows the value of seed treatments on soybean yields. (Neonicotinoid soybean seed treatments provide negligible benefits to U.S. farmers, 2019, Figure 3).

By helping protect the developing seedling during its most vulnerable time, today's innovative seed treatments allow farmers to do more with less. For the environment, this means minimizing potential off-target exposure and impacts on natural resources. For farmers, it means lower production costs, and higher, more consistent yields. For all of us, it means access to high-quality, affordable food we count on for our families.

Because the seeds are planted below the soil surface, they minimize potential exposure to non-target plants, animals and humans, especially applicators. The alternative? Without neonic-treated seeds, farmers would be forced to rely on fewer, older and less precise classes of chemistry. According to the AgInfomatics research, if seed treatments were not available to farmers: one pound of neonicotinoids would be replaced with nearly five pounds of other insecticides, resulting in an increase in application rate per acre of 375% and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs to farming operations. In addition, U.S. cropped land would need to increase between 340,000 and 410,000 acres to offset losses in yield and quality, much of which would come from the Conservation Reserve Program, environmentally sensitive land established to preserve water, soil and wildlife.


To imply that the seed treatment industry operates with minimal federal oversight is simply not true. Seed treatment products are highly regulated, just as foliar and soil-applied pesticides are. These products, including their use as seed treatments, undergo thorough scientific evaluation and approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and applicable state agencies prior to commercialization and periodically thereafter. In fact, the EPA requires all pesticides to undergo roughly 100 safety studies before they are approved.

Every registered product is required to display an EPA-approved label that describes the product's approved uses, applications, and directions for use. Federal law prohibits use of a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label. Additionally, the Federal Seed Act regulates the labeling, sale, and movement of seed in the U.S. As consumers ourselves, we fully support these comprehensive and science-based processes to ensure these tools can be used safely. This includes careful consideration of potential off-target exposure to non-target organisms when regulatory agencies are evaluating new insecticides for use.

The seed industry takes its environmental and stewardship responsibilities seriously for the full life cycle of the seed, including its proper disposal. Federal, state and local regulations are in place for the proper disposal of treated seed. Disposal facilities are required to have an EPA permit to dispose of pesticides, pesticide-contaminated rinse water, or pesticide-treated seed. And anyone disposing of treated seed must abide by disposal requirements listed on the pesticide product label and seed tag.


It is absolutely essential that anyone who treats, handles, transports, plants, recycles, reuses or disposes of treated seeds manage them properly and in accordance with label instructions and federal and state guidelines to minimize the risk of pesticide exposure to humans and the environment. The seed industry and growers alike are fully committed to following all laws and guidelines for the safe use and disposal of seed, and we work closely together to communicate the importance of proper stewardship to everyone involved in the handling of treated seed, at every step of the process. ASTA and its member companies work closely with grower and partner groups to remind the entire chain about the importance of seed treatment stewardship, especially around planting and harvesting season each year. A variety of educational resources, including guides, training and communications templates, are available at seed-treatment-guide.com.

Of course, while meta-analyses can be informative for understanding the yield benefits afforded to growers on a regional or national scale, the decision to use seed treated with crop protection products is ultimately a local one that each grower makes with an understanding of their local pest and disease threats, field histories, and treatment alternatives. Seed suppliers work with growers to plan their production and offerings accordingly. For certain crops, farmers who wish to purchase non-treated seed will need to discuss their order in advance. For example, seed companies start treating corn seed in September and usually apply their standard treatment package, unless there are specific orders for non-treated seed or different treatment recipes. For this reason, farmers are encouraged to request seed early in the fall to maximize their treatment options.

There's no question that today's food and agriculture system faces unprecedented challenges. American agriculture is on the frontlines of developing safe, innovative solutions to address the new and emerging global challenges of our time, while contributing to feeding the world. The security of our world's food supply is at stake, and we can't afford to stall progress. Farmers need access to every tool available, including the newest seed treatments, to ensure the long-term sustainability of our food, our farms, and our planet.

Andy LaVigne is President and CEO of American Seed Trade Association.

Letters may be emailed to edit@dtn.com or mailed to Greg Horstmeier, 18205 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68022.