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  • 100 Years of Innovation in Seed Treatment


Midwife to a brand-new industry

Rarely does a single product give birth to an entire industry. But that is what Ceresan can claim to have done. The rapidly spreading use of this dry seed treatment for cereals in the years after its launch in 1929 made contract seed treatment a viable line of business. Farmers were happy to leave seed treatment to specialist firms and their specialization boosted the demand for dedicated application machinery. The product, the specialized service and the customized equipment – a virtual circle had emerged in seed treatment.
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Spurred on by the success of Uspulun, the mother of all cereal seed treatments launched in 1914, Bayer scientists in the 1920s intensified their efforts to find an even better successor. In 1929 their work came to fruition with the launch of Ceresan, a universal ethyl mercury-based dry treatment for cereal seed. If any seed treatment can be called a benchmark product, it is Ceresan. Although its mercury content was lower than Uspulun’s, Ceresan provided more effective protection against a broad spectrum of fungal diseases than any previous mercury compounds. Its unmatched efficacy in the prevention of common bunt and stinking smut in wheat, leaf-stripe disease and covered smut in oats and barley, ‘black leg’ in sugar beet, fusarium in rye and other cereals, and various diseases affecting peas and beans, for example, made it a benchmark seed treatment for half a century. 

Another advantage was the application flexibility Ceresan offered farmers – seed could be treated either straight after harvest or just before sowing. If applied to seed sown in autumn, Ceresan also helped prevent winterkill, the damage to seed caused by severe frost, snow mold or the rot caused by alternating periods of frost and thaw.

Consistent branding

One reason for Ceresan’s long-lasting success was the consistent branding measures undertaken right from the start. The very first advertising campaign focused on the message that treating seed with Ceresan would “pay its way”. The information material provided for farmers even included calculations of yield gains brought about by Ceresan. “The harvest is more profitable with Ceresan” was one of the first claims used in German-language advertisements.
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Treat your seed with Ceresan – it pays

In post-war Germany concrete claims were made about the benefits Ceresan would bring: “Revenues of round 50 D-marks per hectare through increased yields on the one hand, a low-cost investment on the other.” Consistent branding, high degrees of user awareness and, above all, a top-quality product paved the way for half a century of success “in more than 50 countries of the world” (as another advertisement put it).

Export hit

Launched in Germany in 1929, Ceresan was an instant hit. The universal applicability of this dry seed treatment and the fact that it was a non-irritant were clear arguments in Ceresan’s favor. Just how quickly the use of Ceresan spread in Germany is indicated by the following figures: the amount sold in Germany in 1933 was enough to treat 4 million hundredweight
of wheat or rye; by 1939 the figure had risen to 10 million hundredweight. The growth in Ceresan usage outside Germany is just as impressive: the amount sold in foreign markets in 1933 was enough to treat 1.5 million hundredweight of cereals; by 1939 the figure had rocketed up to 8 million hundredweight.

Birth of a brand-new industry

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The widespread use of Ceresan as a dry seed treatment was one of the main reasons why contract seed treatment became an economically viable business. Among other advantages, it was a matter of economies of scale. As the popularity and overall volume of seed-applied products rose significantly, it made sound business sense for farmers to contract out the job of treating their seed to specialist facilities at farming cooperatives or dedicated seed treatment firms. When farmers took their grain for drying, they had the next season’s seed treated at the same time. It cost no more than if the farmer had treated the seed himself and the strictly regulated nature of these specialist firms ensured seed treatment of high and consistent quality.
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The “good old days” when farmers treated their own seed with Ceresan
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The “good old days” when farmers treated their own seed with Ceresan
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The “good old days” when farmers treated their own seed with Ceresan

The “good old days” when farmers treated their own seed with Ceresan

By specializing in seed treatment, these facilities or firms were also in a position to invest in the  1940s. And let’s be honest, no farmer can seriously have mourned the passing of the “good old days” when a bucket, spade, watering can or barrel were the only equipment he had to treat his seed with Ceresan (as the photos in gallery show).

Since the 1930s the sensible division of labor between farmer and seed treater has increasingly brought benefits throughout the seed treatment value chain – and created numerous new jobs in a line of business Ceresan served as a midwife to.


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Innovation in practice since 1926

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