The use of coated seed to establish crops is not a novel practice. Seed coatings have been used on small seeded crops to improve the handling ability by making the seed unit larger and heavier. Producers can therefore calibrate their sowing equipment more efficiently and wind will not cause as much drift at sowing. Seed coating can have an added benefit for leguminous crops if the symbiotic inoculant (Rhizobium) is added to the coating. This saves the producer time and allows peace of mind that inoculation was done by trained professionals.
Other than the inoculation, there are some other constituents in the seed coating that can have benefits to the plant. It can, however, be theorized that added nutrients or pesticides will be beneficial to the plants only if these nutrients are deficient in the growth medium or when pests are present. This study evaluated the effect of seed coating on the life stages of germination, emergence and survival, seedling growth and ultimate yield of mature lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) plants, comparing the results with non-coated seed. Two cultivars were used in the evaluation, SA Standard and SuperCuf, to determine if the effects would be similar, or would genetic differences between the cultivar play a significant role. These life stages (germination, emergence and seedling growth) were chosen due to the importance of these stages to the success of establishment. Fast and uniform germination will result in a uniform stand with strong competition against weed infestation. The effect of growth medium on the emergence of seedlings and the interaction between the seed coating and the growth medium was important to determine to identify limitations in the use of seed coating. Changes in the growth of seedlings in terms of some physio-morphological characteristics will assist in identifying parameters influenced by the coating. It was, however, essential to not only do these trials under ideal agricultural conditions, but to identify if similar results would be obtained from stressed conditions, such as salinity, which is a growing concern for crop production areas. The question of whether seed coating will influence the ultimate production of the crop could then be answered.
It was found that the method in which germination is tested can have a significant outcome for the results obtained. When the Jacobsen apparatus was compared with the use of petri dishes, using specification according to ISTA, it was found that the water movement in the Jacobsen apparatus overcomes concentrated nutrient conditions, especially for SuperCuf. Under saline conditions the coated SA Standard seed had higher germination than the non-coated seed, therefore overcoming inhibitions imposed by the salinity. It is clear that the coating influences germination of lucerne and the interaction with the seed environment is significant. It is also clear that the genetic differences between cultivars are significant and results should not be applied across all lucerne cultivars.
When the emergence percentage had been determined in different growth media, namely a commercial growth media, a sandy loam soil and silica medium, it was found that the emergence was influenced by the media. Even though the emergence of seedlings are mostly determined by the nutrients in the cotyledons, some growing conditions did cause lower emergence for non-coated SA Standard seeds and was overcome by the use of coated seed. When the growing conditions were manipulated with saline irrigation it was found that coated SuperCuf had a higher emergence % than the non-coated treatments when irrigated with the 750 μS.cm-1 water. From the data collected from this trial, it can be concluded that, even though the use of seed coating does not always influence the emergence of lucerne seedlings, seed coating does have an influence on the emergence, but it is dependent on the growth medium quality in terms of nutrient composition and salinity. Similar to the germination trial, the genetic influence of the different cultivars was noticeable. To determine the differences caused by seed coating to the physio-morphological characteristics (stem height, leaf area etc.) of lucerne, a pot trial was conducted using different irrigation treatments, municipal water (180 μS.cm-1), 500 and 750 μS.cm-1 water, created with NaCl. It was found that the physio-morphological characteristics were highly correlated, i.e. the stem height, leaf area, number of leaves and dry matter production changed in relation to each other. There were, however, differences in this correlation coated and non-coated seed treatments, when irrigated with 500 μS.cm-1 water. For the seedlings grown from coated seed, the correlation between shoot dry matter yield and the other parameters were low, while the seedlings growth from non-coated seed, leaf area was not correlated with the other parameters. It was concluded that the tolerance mechanism for salinity for plants irrigated with 500 μS.cm-1 water, caused more differences than the other water treatments.
Taking into consideration that coating influences the germination and emergence of lucerne and that the two cultivars react differently to the seed coating, the yields obtained from field trials could then be interpreted if differences were observed. Three field trials were established, namely a trial established in autumn (established in 2009) and second trial established in spring (established in 2010) which were sown at 25 kg.ha-1, while a third trial established spring (established in 2010) was sown at 5 different sowing densities, namely 80%, 90%, 100%, 110% and 120% of recommended sowing density (25 kg.ha-1). It was found that the pasture stands established with SA Standard, did not show many differences between the coated and non-coated seed treatments and were mostly restricted to the second growing season, where the non-coated seed treatments had significantly higher dry matter yield than the coated seed treatments. Stands established with SuperCuf, displayed more variation between the seed treatments and the non-coated seed treatments had higher yields in the first season. It was, however, found that the stands established with coated SuperCuf seed had lower stem: leaf ratio’s, indicating that a better quality fodder can be produced from coated seed. The data from the sowing density trial showed very little difference between the yields of the stands established with coated and non-coated SA Standard seed. Differences were, however, observed between seed treatments at 90% and 120% of the recommended sowing density, where the stands established with non-coated seed had higher yields than the stands established with coated seed. It can be concluded that under these trial conditions, the use of coated seed had very little influence on the yield of the lucerne stands. The observed differences suggest that the lucerne growth under these few conditions, the stands established from non-coated seed had better yield, but the stands established from coated seed had better quality. It is, however, more likely that there will be no differences between the seed treatments. Data from the sowing density trial also led to the conclusion that stands established at 20% less seed will not result in lower yields if the stand establishment is successful. The similarity between the seed treatments and the sowing densities suggests that the number of plants per area were the same, caused by seedling mortality during the high growth rate in the early growing stage, or the morphological characteristics, such as number of stems per plant and number of leaves per stem, adapted to result in similar yields and quality.
Dissertation (MSc Agric)--University of Pretoria, 2014.