Concerns that birds and wildlife may consume treated seed spilled in fields have prompted agribusinesses and farm groups to collaborate on an educational effort that encourages farmers this spring to cover or clean up those small piles immediately.
The Seed Stewardship Working Group, part of the American Seed Trade Association, recently issued an educational flyer that includes a three-step stewardship plan for farmers to follow during the planting season.
The working group decided to focus on the educational effort after a Minnesota Public Radio story aired last fall. The story reported that researchers with the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were studying the effects of neonicotinoid insecticide on birds and wild animals after finding at least 15,000 large seed spills across the state. They had filmed wildlife and birds eating the treated seeds.
The MPR story also noted that researchers surveyed recently planted fields and found some seeds exposed on the surface in 25% of those fields, posing an additional potential source of treated seeds for scavenging birds.
According to ASTA’s “Treated Seed Stewardship for Handling Spills” educational flyer, birds that may eat treated seeds include Canada geese, American crows, mourning doves, sparrows, blackbirds, wild turkeys, ring-necked pheasants, blue jays and brown thrashers.
“Because certain bird species may eat seeds left on the surface, it is vital that growers ensure all spills are removed or buried to protect birds and wildlife habitats,” the flyer notes.
Managing seed spills
To manage seed spills effectively, the ASTA flyer asks growers to follow these three stewardship steps:
• Follow directions on the seed container label for proper handling, storage, planting and disposal practices.
• Know where and when seed spills are likely to occur. The sites with the greatest potential for spills? At the loading site, at the point of entry to the field and at the turn rows. Knowing where and when spills can happen will help you take preventive or corrective action.
• Immediately clean up or cover up treated seed spills with soil after they occur, so birds and wildlife can’t eat them. Completely remove all leftover treated seeds or seeds left in containers and equipment, and dispose of them properly.
Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau and a member of the Seed Stewardship Working Group, says agriculture groups across the state are keenly aware of the importance of treated seed stewardship and following key principles of proper storage, transportation, selection, filling, planting, cleaning and seed disposal.
As a member of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Committee on Pollinator Protection, Paap adds that there is concern among some that neonicotinoids — especially as a seed treatment — are a target to first regulate, and then eliminate.
“We continually remind those outside of ag that seed treatments are a valuable tool to protect our crops at their most vulnerable stage, and their use helps to reduce the amount of pesticides that may needed to be broadcast on fields later,” Paap says. “We want to ensure that every seed we plant turns into a viable seedling and a productive plant that returns yield, better emergence, stand and vigor.”
That said, Paap is optimistic about the outcome for treated seed.
“With targeted, proactive engagement and education, we can improve our seed stewardship on a voluntary basis without the need for additional regulations,” Paap says. “We are continuing to meet and be as active as possible as we move into this spring’s planting season.”
To read the one-page ASTA seed stewardship flyer, go to Treated Seed Stewardship for Handling Spills.
For more information about stewardship of treat seed, check out seed-treatment-guide.com.