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Application of beneficial microorganisms to seeds during priming to improve seedling establishment

Professor John Whipps

Reliably high and uniform plant establishment translates not only into improved crop yield and quality, but also greater flexibility in planting strategies. However at times, poor or erratic seedling growth and establishment continue to be problems in UK horticulture. Sometimes a proportion of viable seeds sown fails to establish in the field, despite the use of seed enhancement techniques such as priming (to make germination faster and more uniform), as well as coating and seed treatments with protective chemicals.

Drum priming system at Elsoms Seeds

Drum priming system at Elsoms Seeds

The application of specific micro-organisms at sowing time, including direct "inoculation" onto seeds, can promote subsequent seedling and plant growth in a range of crop production systems. However, many of these beneficial microbial strains have low survival rates following delivery onto seeds using conventional coating techniques.

We have studied the potential of seed priming systems to deliver the beneficial microbes to carrot, leek, parsnip and sugar beet. Populations of natural seed bacteria and fungi all tended to increase on the seed coat during priming and survive subsequent drying, indicating that additionally applied beneficial micro-organisms might do the same.

Strains of bacteria (Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas) and fungi (Trichoderma) applied to seeds at different rates during priming exhibited growth patterns which differed from one plant micro-organism combination to another. However some were very successful, suggesting that priming has potential as a delivery system for beneficial microorganisms on seeds.

Funding: HortLINK

Sponsors: DEFRA, Germain's Technology Group - UK, Elsoms Seeds Ltd & HDC

This article first appeared in the HRI Annual Report (2002-2003)

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