Using seeds as delivery vehicles for the things that ensure a good crop seems a logical thing to do. Feilding company OptiTech, a part of H&T Agronomics, is doing just that with multiple seed coatings in custom-made recipes allowing seeds to take their pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and growth stimulants into the ground with them. Tony Leggett reports on how it works.
Slugs have met their match for cereal growers using seed coated with repellent in a world-leading technique developed by a Feilding company.
H&T Agronomics has honed its seed coating skills since investing more than $1 million in specialised equipment imported from Europe two years ago for its seed coating business, OptiTech.
Clients were benefitting already from sowing pasture and forage brassica seed coated with several layers of built-in protection from pests and diseases, H&T business manager Duncan Thomas said.
After successfully adding slug repellent to its range of pasture and brassica coated seeds, its latest breakthrough was to coat bulk barley, wheat and maize seeds with slug repellent, eliminating the need for bait application at sowing.
It had trademarked the latest breakthrough under the brand name Rappel and made it available this spring on all its brassica, herb, pasture and cereal seed at $55/ha
The cost was about the same as the bait but eliminated the cost of applying it after sowing.
Seed coating technology was an obvious next step for the company that had a strong spirit of innovation and a determination to deliver the best genetics and advice on total farm systems to its clients, Thomas said.
A visit to the International Seed Federation conference and exhibition in Beijing four years ago gave Thomas and colleague Paul Oliver the confidence to recommend an investment in seed coating equipment to the H&T board.
“We saw a huge spike of growth in seed-applied technologies.
“Instead of applying sprays on to the crop or pasture foliage, with all the risks and costs that can have, we saw the opportunity to apply it to the seed and use the seed as a taxi,” Thomas said.
“That way the ingredients get down to the root system and move up through the plant where they do the work.
“There’s no spray drift, run-off or off-target spraying so the risks to the environment are reduced.
“Farmers have been asking us for this for a couple of years and we’ve been trialling it over that time.
“But now we have the trial work from AgResearch we needed to back up the results we were getting from our own bin trials, so we’re ready to go.”
H&T Agronomics director Dave Burney said the board was happy to invest to develop the seed-coating business.
“It came at a critical time in the development of H&T as well. We were looking for ways to grow the business so this was an obvious option for the company to take.”
What followed was the installation of a seed-coating machine set up to handle bags of seed.
The latest investment in a bulk conveyor system meant H&T could now coat cereal seed at up to 18 tonnes an hour.
“We can now apply up to six separate coatings onto seed and customise those coatings to the environment the seed will be sown into.
“Most of our recipes have been developed here in the plant in Feilding through tapping bright minds and some trial work to get the brews right,” he said.
An exciting recent discovery was the ability to coat maize seed with a natural root growth stimulant, marketed under the brand name H&T Optimised.
Field results backed up pot trials for maize, which showed up to a 400% increase in the root mass and 13% greater shoot mass at 39 days after sowing, compared with other treated and untreated seed.
The same root growth stimulant could be applied to all seed types. Other work was now under way to test a natural insecticide which could have huge applications for organic farmers.
H&T field staff and management had also installed crop management software called AgWorld on their phones and field iPads.
It allowed them to make crop recommendations on site and manage the crop from sowing to harvest, including the scheduling of spraying, fertiliser applications and harvesting on a shared, cloud-based platform.
“You still can’t beat a face-to-face visit with the grower and their crops but AgWorld has revolutionised our business because it’s so easy to keep everyone informed and to schedule all the activities required to maintain a healthy crop,” Thomas said.
Burney said the adoption of AgWorld for H&T was another factor that set the business apart from its competitors.
H&T had more than 10 field agents covering most of the North Island, managed from its main office in Feilding. A small group of South Island farms was also being visited regularly.
The company launched its own graduate internship initiative three years ago to build its field team with staff who had been through a thorough training and mentoring programme, working alongside highly experienced, trusted agents.
“The results have been phenomenal.
“We are getting some of the top students from Massey and Lincoln Universities coming our way, including our first female rep, Susie Dalgety, who joined us earlier this year.”
To stay informed about global trends and new developments, Thomas and Oliver are heading back to next year’s International Seed Federation conference, in Brisbane.
Image caption: Duncan Thomas with the seed coating machine at H&T Agronomics. Photo: Aaron Davies