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Man standing in a wheat field
Montana grower Brandon Udelhoven says customized seed treatments have become an important tool for raising high-quality wheat in challenging conditions.
C magazine

Flexibility and cost savings in custom seed treatments

Blend-to-order custom seed treatments offer greater convenience and better value.
Peg Zenk
Aug 31, 2023

Most farm input decisions are based on what will perform best in each field each season. Why should seed treatments be different?

For Brandon Udelhoven, who partners with his father, Bruce, farming 7,500 acres of small grains and pulse crops near Winifred, Mont., planting conditions vary widely from one year to the next. Whether they’re planting lentils into wet, cool spring soils or seeding winter wheat into dry fall conditions, protecting the seed is critical.

“We’re firm believers in using seed treatments. They always pay for themselves as a form of insurance,” says Udelhoven, who started using STI Customized blended seed treatments five years ago through CHS Big Sky in Lewistown, Mont. “The flexibility Big Sky offers has been valuable, especially when grasshopper populations exploded.”

A man looking down over a railing at a tank with chemicals in a warehouse setting 
A new custom blender, opened in May 2023 in Jonesboro, Ark., is one of four CHS blending facilities that tailors seed treatments to regional and grower needs. Jake Westmoreland, a CHS seed treatment blender and operator, supervises the blending process.

Season-specific blends

A wet spring and good grass growth in 2019 followed by a hot, dry summer set up perfect grasshopper breeding conditions in Montana.

“There wasn’t a lot of crop damage that season, but grasshopper numbers have been unusually high here the last four years, with significant damage to small grains,” says Udelhoven. “Using insecticide in our winter wheat seed treatment has provided important early protection for wheat seedings in the fall.”

He says this year’s cool spring appears to have delayed insect activity. “We’re hoping for less pressure this fall, but if we need to add an insecticide to our winter wheat seed treatment again this year, we can make that decision based on field scouting just before we place our order, a few weeks prior to planting.”

Wireworm populations can also do serious damage to cereal crops, notes Kyle Rollness, western regional agronomy sales manager for CHS. “But you can’t really predict the impact of that pest ahead of each season. Field scouting is key, and many growers have been able to add an insecticide to their customized winter wheat seed treatment to protect against wireworm damage or increase the rate used for better control.”

On-farm flexibility

Preplant flexibility is important to many growers, especially those who apply seed treatments on the farm, like the Udelhovens.

Building a blend

STI Customized seed treatment options

  • Plant health: base fungicide, water mold protection, auxiliary fungicides, SDS fungicides
  • Pest control: insecticides, nematicides
  • Growth enhancement: plant growth regulators, inoculants biologicals, micronutrients
  • Aesthetics: colors, polymers, seed finishers

“With STI Customized seed treatments, they get the exact ingredients they want, arriving shortly before they need them, and they can apply the seed treatment as they plant so there’s no leftover treated seed,” says Perry Johnston, agronomy sales manager for CHS Big Sky. “We typically produce four to six different blends each season for farmers in our central Montana trade area, although we have developed up to a dozen in a year.”

The premixed seed treatment is typically delivered to the Udelhoven farm in a 120-gallon returnable shuttle. “I don’t have to mix anything, which helps minimize chemical exposure,” says Udelhoven. “The blends stay in suspension well and apply uniformly on the seed. We’ve never had any handling problems.”

A range of product packaging options are available, ranging from 15-gallon kegs to 260-gallon shuttles.

Growth enhancement products can also be added to the customized seed treatment blends, including plant growth regulators, inoculants, biologicals and micronutrients. Several years ago, the Udelhovens decided to try adding the plant growth regulator CHS Unlocked™ plant hormone supplement to their winter wheat treatment blend.

“The first season we included Unlocked, we ran out of the custom blend before we finished seeding a field and finished up that day with an off-the-shelf product,” he says. “It was literally a side-by-side comparison in the field, and we saw two-day earlier emergence where Unlocked was applied and more robust, healthier plants later that fall. Now Unlocked is always part of our winter wheat seed treatment blend.”

A decade of experience

CHS has been offering STI Customized seed treatments for more than a decade, explains Blake Murnan, product development manager with CHS.

“A large portion of our blending business involves seed treatments for wheat, but we also blend for soybeans, rice, potatoes and pulse crops, including field peas, lentils and chickpeas.”

CHS maintains blenders in Willmar, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; and Spangle, Wash.; plus a new facility in Jonesboro, Ark., which opened in May 2023. “The new blender in Arkansas will allow us to expand our business in the Delta and will serve customers in the eastern Corn Belt,” says Michael Browning, a CHS seed treatment specialist. “We’ll be treating rice and soybean seed as well as wheat. We expect to have more than 20 blends next year.”

Nationwide, there are more than 660 unique seed treatment blends in the STI Customized system. “CHS created 70 individual blends for customers across the country this spring and has delivered 200 unique blends to customers since last September,” says Browning.

Only what’s needed

“With STI Customized seed treatments, we start by looking at pest pressure in an area, then building a blend based on those needs,” explains Murnan.

For example, he says, water molds are a serious problem in Ohio, so soybean seed treatments usually contain higher rates of fungicide active ingredients and multiple modes of action to protect against pythium and phytophthora.

“In North Dakota, those disease pressures are less of a problem, so we’re able to dial down or eliminate active ingredient rates,” Munan adds. “With the STI Customized system, you don’t pay for ingredients you don’t need.”

Building the best custom blend for a specific use usually starts with asking questions, says Derek Dolan, CHS agronomy account manager for Iowa and Wisconsin. “What are the biggest early-season agronomic challenges for the crop in that area? What are expectations for seed treatment? What percentage of crop seed is currently being treated?”

Doing that homework with one retail customer, Dolan learned that about 30% of the retailer’s soybean seed was going out the door untreated. A little more research revealed a major sticking point for many growers was the price of the off-the-shelf premium seed treatment being offered.

CHS worked with the retailer to develop a value-priced, agronomically sound alternative using cost-effective active ingredients that targeted key pest issues in the area.

The result was a customized soybean seed treatment that fit grower needs and was easy for the retailer to adopt. “The customized blend helped bring value to both growers and the retailer, so it was a real win-win.”

Learn more about CHS agronomy.

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