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Poncho case study – Jenna Sutton, Farmlands, Rangiora

It may only be a small additional cost per hectare when establishing new pasture but an effective seed coating is proving to be an excellent and economical insurance policy – not only preventing crop infestation, but putting you in the best position to get a yield well over what an unprotected grass sward could deliver.

A field trial conducted by Farmlands Rangiora technical manager Jenna Sutton has confirmed just how valuable seed coating can be to successful crop establishment.

Poncho Case Study -  Jenna Sutton

Jenna’s trial with Rangiora farmer Geoff Winter comprised two 5ha lots of land planted into perennial ryegrass, coming out of peas. The outside four rounds of each paddock was sown with seed treated with the insecticide Poncho, from Bayer and the rest of the seed sown was untreated

The trial outcome included photographs and plate meter dry matter amounts collected by Jenna, along with eye observations of the grass establishment.

Dry matter results at one measurement indicated the treated Poncho grass delivered an additional 67% more dry matter per hectare in the treated pasture, compared to untreated.

Jenna says even without comparing the dry matter production it became obvious the coated seed ensured a crop that established more uniformly, and achieved the “Redband” gumboot height more rapidly.

The first image below shows untreated pasture and the second image shows treated pasture.

Poncho Case Study -  Jenna Sutton
Poncho Case Study -  Jenna Sutton

Jenna says sometimes farmers hesitating about whether or not to sow with treated seed will stumble over the initial additional cost it brings to sowing a new grass. Typically seed treating will add 20-30% to the per kilogram cost of the grass/clover seed used.

But when you look at the cost of treatment against the total cost per hectare of sowing grass seed, it is a relatively cheap protection.

She cites a typical cost to establish a perennial pasture at $1000 a hectare, with the seed component only $230-$340 a hectare. The additional cost of $100 a hectare to treat the seed is minimal against that total establishment cost.

And you could be looking at gaining an additional 30% of dry matter production from the treated pasture, especially where you are going from grass to grass and stem weevil pressure in particular is highly likely already there.  The additional dry matter quickly recovers the treatment cost in additional feed.

She says for farmers sowing a grass sward that also includes less dominant herbs like chicory and plantain in the blend, that the need for treatment is even greater.

It becomes extremely important to get a quick and even establishment with the sown species providing the bulk of the competition, rather than weed species providing that competition as you are extremely limited on herbicide options to clean up those paddocks when herbs are also sown. It would be fair to say there is a level of insect pressure in every paddock and whilst you may not visually notice damage in small to medium pressure situations (as it can be hard to determine in grass), every plant or tiller that is not functioning at its maximum potential is simply a situation where any weeds present will out-compete your new grass then you have to ask yourself why you are renewing in the first place? The decision becomes pretty clear.

Jenna says grown pasture is still one of the cheapest forms of feed available to a farmer, and every extra kilogram of dry matter it produces represents a kg less that needs to be sourced elsewhere, often at significantly greater cost than the small c/kgDM cost to treat seed.

She says seed treatment is not a hard sell to anyone who has experienced a crop failure from stem weevil or grub infestation.

She believes for farmers in the North Island, with milder temperatures and a wider range of insect pests, the potential for extra growth and the case for treating seed is even more compelling.

I was highly impressed with the results we had from this trial. Dealing with crops and new pastures all the time I have seen enough failures to know why and when seed treatment is a good idea. The very visually different results surprised even me and it was a very good reminder of why I recommend what I do when it comes to successfully establishing a good grass crop.