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History of Seed Coatings – They’ve Been Around Longer Than You’d Think

December 5, 2023

Today, the seed coating industry is considered one of the fastest-growing ag tech sectors—bringing farmers simple, accessible, highly effective, yet very affordable technology to boost crop success and yields in the form of seed coatings. Only: this technology isn’t as “new” or modern as some people might think.

Dig into the history of seed coatings and you’ll find that seed treatments, coatings, and even pelleted seed have been around helping farmers already for quite some time— it’s only now that companies like Summit Seed are continuously innovating these simple technologies, and making them even better and more effective for producers.

Read on to learn some of the history of seed coatings – they’ve been around longer than you’d think, and have been used by many different types of growers and producers around the world in some form for over a thousand years.

Seed treatments were used as early as 30 B.C.E.

As far back as the early Egyptian and Roman periods— possibly around 30 B.C.E., the time of Roman Egypt— seed coatings and treatments were being used in agriculture for more successful yields. This was all the more important with agriculture playing a more critical role in feeding populations.

It was recorded that agrarians would treat seeds with onion sap, possibly to clean and disinfect seeds of disease and protect them further from disease once they were planted. Extract from the cypress tree was also used to coat and treat seeds possibly for the same technical purposes. These treatments could have also prevented consumption by pests, such as birds or rodents, because of the taste.

Saltwater and copper seed treatments in 17th and 18th centuries

The mid-1600’s is when it is first recorded that saltwater treatments were used, and they are still used to some limited benefit in some places today. Soaking seeds in saltwater (as a float test) helped rice farmers sort out non-viable from viable seeds before plantings. The salt may have also helped protect seeds from excess moisture and disease— but, using the proper concentration of saltwater is important for this, as too much saltwater could impact germination rates.

The first use of copper treated seeds may have begun in the mid-1700’s. Copper helped both disinfect and protect seeds from disease when planted in the field. It’s still used to some extent today, and may also boost seed germination rates and seedling health in certain crops, studies suggest.

The 1930’s: seed coatings used on cereal grains

Research suggests seed coatings— most likely pelleted seeds as one of these— started to be used much more extensively with the scaling up of industrial agriculture around the 1930’s, at least for cereal grains to begin with. Cereal seed coatings first hit the market under Germains, a seed company specializing in seed coatings for commercial flower garden seeds, but opened highly successful seed retail stores in America for cereal growers.¹

Pelleted seed is credited as one of these seed coating technologies that increased in usage among American farmers around that time. These were developed foremost to enhance planting and handling, boosting the precision of spacing between crop seedlings to optimize harvests when utilized with agricultural planting equipment.

The 1960’s: first fungicide seed treatments are used

Around the 1960’s, especially 1968, seed treatments and large-scale agriculture in general made a huge leap: the first systemic fungicide, carboxin, was invented. This fungicide worked better than other fungicides in the past. Not only could it protect and disinfect seeds and crops on their surfaces, but the plant could uptake the fungicide within its own living system, and thus be protected against airborne fungal pathogens once it was growing and living.

This fungicide began being incorporated into seed treatments, coatings, and pelleted seed as early as the 1960’s and onward. This treatment allowed germinating seedlings, right at the beginning of their life cycles, to immediately uptake protective fungicide—greatly increasing crop success, yields, and farmer profits.

Seed coating technology today

Since the 1960’s and even these earlier years, seed coatings and treatments have only continued branching out, innovating, and expanding into new territory to meet the needs of growers in the large scale industrial agriculture complex of today— and to help them with the growing challenges and contexts they meet.

Following the incorporation of fungicide seed treatments, the later inventions of insecticides and nematicides were quickly incorporated into seed coating technologies as well. As early as the late 1980’s (and possibly earlier), plant beneficial microorganisms (PBM’s) like Rhizobia bacteria were beginning to be utilized in seed coatings. Inclusion of micronutrients such as iron or zinc were starting to appear in seed treatments, coatings, and pelleted seeds as well to give germinating seedlings a good head start ahead of the growing season.

At Summit Seed Coatings, we have perfected the technology of seed coatings, pelleting, and treatments to bring producers all these benefits discovered throughout history—and more. We’re continuing to grow and innovate even more advanced technologies to help farmers of all backgrounds. Get in touch with us today.

seeds with seed coatings being planted by hand in soil

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