Adjuvants Add Value

Last season was a wild and woolly time for most segments of the crop inputs industry — and adjuvant manufacturers joined the fray. They’re hoping strong sales will repeat for 2008. “Farmers need to understand adjuvants play a very essential role in crop protection,” says Tom Pekarek, specialty department manager at United Suppliers, Inc.

Adjuvants By Air

Mid-season applications of corn fungicides by air (to boost plant health) were good news for crop oil suppliers, reports Pekarek. While not a high-margin product, the oils — commonly used a rate of 1 pint per acre with fungicides — helped manufacturers’ bottom line, thanks to the sheer number of growers utilizing aerial application. The oils work to get fungicide down into the crop canopy and enhance efficacy.

James Reiss, vice president – agricultural business with Precision Laboratories Inc., explains that some fungicides, when applied by air, require a pint of crop oil concentrate per acre. “That could be over 6 gallons of crop oil in just 100 gallons of water. We saw a lot of aerial applicators really struggle with those high levels and the mixing problems.”

His company’s possible solution is Protyx, “the first adjuvant designed for systemic fungicides.” With several years of data logged — including trials at 14 sites across the Midwest in 2007 — Reiss says one quart of Protyx per 100 gallons of spray solution delivers the same performance as a pint of crop oil. (At presstime, BASF was still considering which new adjuvants to add to the Headline label for aerial use in 2008. Currently, only crop oils are listed.) He also believes this kind of alternative product is better for the environment, considering the volumes of crop oil needed and amount of packaging waste generated in recent use.

Jon Leman, marketing and sales manager with Wilbur-Ellis, would add that crop-based adjuvants are climbing in price. “Historically we could set our adjuvant prices in the fall — which we get from our suppliers. But we’re still getting price adjustments and increases as we speak,” he says.

The renewed aerial focus in 2007 prompted many companies to evaluate their products in this application arena. For instance, the increased fungicide use in corn resulted in a strong effort at Helena Chemical Co. to do just that. “We want to make sure customers get safe, effective, and thorough coverage and deposition when our adjuvants are used with suppliers’ pesticides,” says Chad Trusler, sales manager, adjuvants and VAP’s at Helena. “As a result, we set up trails in key production areas with different products used for disease or weed control. With our extended portfolio of products and adjuvant technologies, we verified that coverage and deposition requirements demanded for aerial applications would met so that field performance met or exceeeded customers’ expectations.”

Perhaps nowhere is the urgency to make pesticides pay felt more strongly than in glyphosate tolerant crops. Glyphosate prices are reaching unprecedented levels and promise to rise even higher. This at a time when virtually all soybeans planted today possess the glyphosate tolerance trait and anywhere between 60% to 80% (depending on who you talk to) of corn acres carry it.

Careful choice of an adjuvant to match a particular glyphosate formulation is key, says Julian Smith, sales director, specialty formulations with Brandt Consolidated. Indeed, United Suppliers’ Pekarek says the right adjuvant in the tank can increase glyphosate efficacy some 30% to 100%.

Wilbur-Ellis has announced the national launch of a new adjuvant designed to make every drop of glyphosate count. A deposition agent called Coverage G20, “it actually delivers 20% more glyphosate to the target,” says Leman. Receiving great feedback, the agent was test marketed to nearly 1 million acres in North Dakota last year.

A newer use for adjuvants is to help glyphosate tank mix partners — additional active ingredients to help in resistance fighting programs — but the approach did not take off in the Midwest in 2007, says Reiss. But to the South, tank mixing took hold better, and Precision Laboratories’ Simplyx nonionic activator provided “faster activity for the glyphosate piece as well as the mix partner.”

Manufacturers emphasize that tank mix partner chemistries are tricky: Glyphosate likes water, while most of its mix partners prefer oil. Another product that can help is Destiny HC, a high surfactant oil concentrate from Winfield Solutions, LLC that uses methylated seed oil. It is effective at rates about one-half those of crop oil and doesn’t antagonize glyphosate, reports Bruce Senst, director of marketing — adjuvants and equipment with the company.

In fact, he says many new herbicides (especially glyphosate tank partners) require high surfactant oil concentrates and water conditioners. “A significant number of those newcomers will require extra attention to tank cleaning between fields.”

Many previously used chemistries also will be brought back to fields for weed control, thanks to the glyphosate price hikes, believes Chuck Champion, president, Kalo Inc. “This will dictate different adjuvant use strategies that were familiar years ago, before GMO crops were in place.”

Value Propositions

Adjuvants can add even more value to a glyphosate program when other compounds, such as micronutrients, can be included to the spray mix. Research at Purdue University and Kansas State University shows that glyphosate-tolerant crops balk at translocating manganese from the soil. And trying to feed manganese as well as zinc by foliar application doesn’t work: “Manganese and zinc antagonize the performance of glyphosate,” says Reiss. Enter Import, a new chemistry from Precision Laboratories, via an exclusive agreement with Canadian technology partners. By adding Import to the tank, “you can make your micronutrient and glyphosate application at the same time and still get excellent weed control — and you don’t have to use an expensive chelated micro,” says Reiss.

“This is going to be able to provide retailers with an opportunity to increase profitability for themselves by marketing micronutrients on glyphosate acres. Plus it’s a great opportunity for growers to overcome some of the yield drag they’ve experienced over the years,” he adds.

Aiding micronutrients is just one way adjuvants are getting more sophisticated. Manufacturers have gone beyond surfactant/leaf penetrant qualities to create “combination” adjuvants, which offer buffers, water conditioners, and drift retardants as well. Brandt Consolidated is bringing a new molecule with just such activity to the market this year, reports Smith. Called Prolec, it’s a wetter/spreader/drift control agent that also can acidify the spray water. Bottom line: “The way to maximize a spray return is often through the choice of the appropriate adjuvant,” says Smith.

One newer flexible adjuvant is TRONIC, from Kalo, Inc. It’s a vegetable oil nonionic surfactant designed for mixtures where the label recommends a nonionic surfactant (NIS) and/or a crop oil adjuvant. “TRONIC can be used as a single tank additive for both requirements when the herbicide label doesn’t restrict adjuvant recommendation for crop oils, methylated seed oil, or nonionic surfactants only,” explains Champion.

New For 2008
 Product  Action  Company
 TRONIC Vegetable-derived oil and surfactant replacement Kalo, Inc.
 Import  Activator for glyphosate and micronutrient tank mixes. Precision Laboratories Inc.
Downdraft Deposition and canopy penetration agent. United Suppliers, Inc.
Pre-Long Sticker/extender United Suppliers, Inc.
Destiny HC High surfactant oil concentrate Winfield Solutions, LLC (new to company)

Growers will be counting on agronomists at local dealerships for information on adjuvant recommendations, notes Senst. Once chosen, adjuvants can really show their stuff in stress conditions such as dry, hot, wet, or cold weather. “Under stress, differences in adjuvant quality really show. The marginal performance of cheap formulations will be accentuated.” says Reiss.

Champion would warn that dry conditions like those felt in many regions last year affect late-season herbicide applications because the weeds have become “hardened off,” thereby becoming more resistant to herbicide uptake. He says methylated vegetable oil adjuvants (MVO) help, but applicators need to be careful to avoid injury to the crop. “Standard crop oils are also helpful in these situations with less phytotoxicity concern vs. an MVO,” he explains.

Industry In Flux

Adjuvant suppliers expressed concern about the industry as a whole this year. All sectors are facing unusual pressures in “the availability of components and supply issues,” says Pekarek. “We’re encouraging our dealers to be more forward-thinking about their needs. We can’t think it’s going to continue to be like walking into a grocery store and getting what we want off the shelf.” And growers and dealerships can’t assume what they pay today will be what they pay tomorrow.

“Overall supply and economics seem to be very volatile,” says Wilbur-Ellis’ Leman. “As an industry, we’re used to people setting prices at the beginning of the year. Now, it just changes so rapidly. It’s a different paradigm.”

He reflects on the impact to the distribution chain: “We’ve been in a 25-year trend of eliminating distribution, but this year, with short supplies, independent dealers find themselves in need of good quality distributors like they haven’t needed to do in a while. Somebody who’s anticipating and has supplies, even with prices changing,” says Leman. “Right now, it’s more about supply and timeliness and some of those other service attributes.”

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