Conditions Affecting Shelf-Life of Inoculated Legume Seed
Microbial inoculants are becoming more available as sustainable alternatives to fertilizers and other agrichemicals in broad-acre cropping. However, with the exception of legume inoculants little is understood about effective delivery and survival of the inoculum. Legume inoculants are applied to both seed and soil but seed inoculation is the most economical technique. Large quantities of pasture seed in Australia are inoculated by commercial seed coating companies, but the long-term survival of seed-applied inoculum is variable and monitoring of viability requires specialist microbiology skills and facilities. The aim of our research was to define optimum storage conditions for survival of rhizobia on legume seed and evaluate water activity as a means of monitoring shelf-life. The relationship between survival and water activity varied according to seed species, inoculum preparation, coating ingredients, initial water activity and time suggesting that storage conditions would need to be defined for each different combination. Although drying seeds after coating significantly reduced viable numbers of rhizobia, survival of rhizobia on dried commercially coated lucerne seed after 11 weeks was less variable than seeds that had not been dried. The highest numbers were maintained when seeds remained dry with water activities of between 0.47 and 0.38. The quality of inoculated seed could be improved by reducing the death rate of inoculum during preparation and providing optimum storage conditions for long-term survival.
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