Box of Enlightenment

Many of you have undoubtedly run into disease problems in your gardens. If so, you’ve probably put a fair bit of thought into how to control and prevent them. Diseases can be carried in the air, splash up from the soil, or be transferred through pests. But it’s possible that disease could also have entered your garden direct from the seed. Seed borne diseases pose an especially challenging problem for organic growers as they have a limited number of prevention methods to deal with potentially infected seeds. Should prevention methods fail, they are also at greater risk than conventional growers since - once a disease takes hold in a field - eradication methods are also limited.  It’s therefore really important that seed borne diseases be effectively controlled.

One existing method for treating suspect seed is through immersing seeds in a hot water bath designed to kill pests and pathogens. This process is a complex one, involving very specific bath lengths and temperatures for different types of seeds. The end result is a complex process – errors in which can have drastic results on germination, vigour and viability of the treated seed. The equipment required is also fairly expensive, limiting its on-farm potential.

We’re excited to announce that Seeds of Diversity has received an investment of $133,000 through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) to study a new method of seed cleaning. Facetiously dubbed the "Box of Enlightenment" around the office, the new technology we're developing will help producers control seed-borne disease through the use of ultra-violet light, replacing treatments which have been found to be either too expensive or result in significant losses of seed.

"This investment will help create a new option for seed producers and purchasers to prevent transmission of seed-borne plant diseases, using readily accessible technology that is inexpensive, safe, easy to use, and chemical-free. We are developing a UV disinfection method specifically to address seed-borne diseases of tomato seeds, but we are confident that the technique will apply to many other crop types," said Bob Wildfong, Seeds of Diversity’s Executive Director.

Our Seed Science Manager Andrew McLean, explains that an ultraviolet solution allows for wavelengths of naturally occurring light to permanently disable the pathogens and their spores while leaving the underlying seed unharmed. It also affords the user a pre-storage solution meaning that pathogens can be removed prior to storage or shipping and seeds can stay stored for longer periods without the adverse effects seen after water baths treatments. We project the cost of the technology for an on farm operation to be less than that of the equipment required to successfully treat seeds with hot water baths. 

While this project specifically targets tomato seed pathogens, the knowledge and equipment obtained from it will allow us to continue our pursuit of this technology’s seed applications for years to come.

Investment in this project has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) which is delivered by Industry Councils from Ontario, B.C. and Quebec.


Back to March 2013 Newsletter