We need more action and less talk on sustainable seed coatings

Everyone has seen the graphic images of turtles being caught in plastic beer packaging, photos of once-idyllic beaches now covered in thrown-away shopping bags, and pictures of landfill sites with mountains of man-made trash piling up to the sky. More than ever, the issue of plastic pollution – as well as the initiatives and organizations that tackle it – are big on people’s screens and part of our popular consciousness. One type of plastic pollution that perhaps has not received the attention it deserves, though, is that of seed coatings.

Around the world, seeds are commonly coated by the agricultural industry to improve sowability, visibility in the soil, and to have a binder to incorporate biological or plant-protection products around the seed, as a sustainable way to maximize germination and protect young plants in the field. Ultimately, seed coating sustainably supports farmers to obtain maximum harvest, as well as the world’s growing population to secure enough and safe food production. To quote from the Seed Applied Technologies Committee in Seed World 2019: “If you do a proper seed treatment, only 0.5 to 1% of the acreage is exposed to the active ingredient, in comparison with a sprayed application where 100% of the field is exposed.” 

However, fossil-based synthetic coatings with limited biodegradability are still commonly used by the agricultural industry. These coatings leave small microplastic particles behind in the soil – meaning that synthetic plastic molecules make their way into our land, rivers and food systems. Not a great thought, right?

Let’s move quicker

Nevertheless, I’m glad that, by and large, the European seed industry is conscious of the need to change and develop, and that EU regulatory authorities are (cautiously) pushing for legislation that will limit unbiodegradable seed coatings. In general, we’re all aware of the need to integrate higher levels of sustainability into agricultural practices, and most people will agree that – to leave a better world for our children and our children’s children – we have to stop unnecessary plastic pollution. 

But are we moving quick enough? Proposals to phase out unbiodegradable seed coatings in the next five years by authorities in Europe, for example, have been met with a lukewarm response from the seed industry. Key stakeholders are saying that the current transition period is too short, and that the phase-out measures are too ambitious as developing new biodegradable polymers would take about three years, and another seven years to get to market. Do we really have time to waste, though? Can we really afford to delay? 

A solution that is ready to go

At Amulix (a daughter company of Dynaplak), we’ve been working on the development of sustainable seed coating technology for several years now. By leveraging the science-based competences and global scale of DSM, and Amulix’s capacity for ground-breaking innovation, DSM-Amulix is driving the conversion from fossil- to bio-based seed coatings, and tackling the issue of microplastic pollution in the agricultural market. 

Our Amulix® product portfolio already covers the key areas of vegetables, forage crops and oil seeds, and we aim to have developed solutions for cereals, including corn, within the next two to three years. In short, with sustainable seed technology ready to go, and the need to apply it more pressing than ever, it would be a mistake to postpone phase-outs or delay meaningful action. As an industry, we need to move – and move quickly – because time is a luxury we do not have. 

Fiona van der Moere, New Business Development Manager DSM-Amulix

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