Adjuvants: Vital Tools In The Tank

When asked to name the biggest surprise of 2009, one adjuvant supplier pointed to “how resilient the industry continues to be during challenging economic times.” And Chuck Champion, president of Kalo Inc., was pleased to report that 2010 sales are up so far, compared to this time last year.

“I think everyone was surprised with the battles we had with the weather and price changes on generics in 2009. But the pleasant surprise was how we ended the year with a modest increase over 2008,” says Terry Nash, manager, adjuvant brands with Helena Chemical. Indeed, Tom Pekarek, specialty department manager, United Suppliers Inc., was encouraged that glyphosate and other post herbicide-related adjuvant usage remained strong in 2009.

Some takes were not so positive, as Jim Reiss, vice president, agricultural chemistries business with Precision Laboratories, noted the evaporation of the fungicide market in corn and soybeans last summer. “When corn prices dropped below $4 per bushel, much of the grower interest in maximizing yield potential with fungicides dried up.” Sales of corresponding adjuvants fell in concert.

Projections For 2010

What do suppliers see for the season ahead? Several are concerned about the amount of glyphosate now sitting in growers’ facilities. Bob Herzfeld, product manager with Universal Crop Protection Alliance (UCPA), explains that large generic glyphosate suppliers ended the season with large inventories, then liquidated them at “fire sale prices and moved significant volumes.” But corresponding adjuvant products did not move with them.

“So how do we still make sure we’re getting the right adjuvants, water quality products, and drift control products in the mix with this glypho­sate?” asks Jon Leman, marketing and sales manager, Wilbur-Ellis. Dealers missed their usual chance to bundle the products together when making a glyphosate recommendation, so they’ll have to make a special push to promote adjuvants this year.

On the positive side, Bruce Senst, director of adjuvants business with Winfield Solutions, believes that with much lower glyphosate and fertilizer costs, growers may have more money to spend.

Though Champion doesn’t see a widespread problem, he wonders if low glyphosate prices may trigger some increased herbicide rates in lieu of adjuvant use.

And if fungicide use for plant health recovers, there will be added opportunity for dealers to enhance those applications with adjuvants, notes Pekarek.

Loveland Products Inc./Crop Protec­tion Services is ready for this market with its new surfactant, Franchise, specially formulated for use with strobilurin chemistries to minimize variability in performance. It’s also specially designed for use when spraying fungicides on crops experiencing stress, says Bryan Unruh, product manager for adjuvants.

Herzfeld is concerned that distributors and dealers, for their part, are gun shy after being burned by glyphosate and fertilizer devaluations, and they’re going into operational mode, cutting costs and inventories. “Unfortunately, I see many more ‘cut rate’ adjuvants making a move into the market with this kind of attitude.”

Some suppliers anticipate kinder weather conditions. “Plentiful moisture in a number of areas of the country that started out dry last year will help us get off to a better start,” says Nash. And Champion is expecting an earlier breaking season — unlike last year’s late start due to weather. But then again, “adjuvants shine when used during adverse conditions — wet, cool, hot, or dry — as they enhance uptake by the targeted weed,” he points out.

Another factor for the season ahead is EPA‘s heightened scrutiny of pesticide applications. Reiss says the agency’s proposed guidelines for drift management — specifically the wording being proposed for inclusion on pesticide labels — is problematic. He believes increased dealer and grower support of state organizations and commodity groups is key to making sure their perspective is heard in Washington.

Product Name Action Company
FS Optique Premium methylated canola oil & surfactant – MSO GROWMARK
Mainstay Elite Liquid AMS, nonionic surfactant, drift & deposition agent Kalo, Inc.
Franchise Surfactant Loveland Products Inc.
Persist Ultra Canola oil & surfactant – MSO Precision Laboratories
Kixyt 60-40 MSO and surfactant system; methylated canola oil with proprietary surfactants Precision Laboratories
Sprint ADT (Advanced Droplet Technology) Deposition aid & drift control agent / nonionic surfactant / ammonium ion water conditioner United Suppliers Inc.
Brimstone Water conditioner / surfactant Wilbur-Ellis
Triple Bronc Water conditioner / spreader / drift control agent Wilbur-Ellis
MSO = Methylated Seed Oil     AMS = Ammonium Sulfate

Leman says that some product labels have already been changed to require certain nozzle types based on the active ingredient. For instance, all 2,4-D products now have a spray quality recommendation. Leman encourages dealers to stay on top of these changes, “because if you use the wrong nozzle, you’re actually making an off-label application, and that’s not acceptable.”

Senst says there is concern about appropriate inclusion of drift and deposition control adjuvants in buffer zone regulation. At this point EPA lacks methodology to measure drift and deposition adjuvant effectiveness, but the agency is looking to the industry for help. The Chemical Producers and Distributors Association (CPDA) is leading an adjuvant industry effort to develop a method for consideration by EPA.

Weed resistance to glyphosate is becoming a bigger challenge every year, and more growers are having to incorporate different herbicide chemistries to battle the problem, says Rod Riech, product manager, Brandt Consolidated. “For that very same reason, tank mixes are getting more complicated and need an adjuvant chemistry that can handle the load,” he says. UCPA’s Herzfeld warns there’s a good chance growers could use the wrong product or not enough of the right one.

In fact, most of these companion herbicides have entirely different or additional adjuvant needs than the glyphosate used with them. “Retailers should be able to create some genuine value for their growers by helping them select the appropriate companion herbicides and adjuvant systems that will deliver the performance growers will expect for the additional expense,” says Reiss.

Senst would agree about dealers’ input: “If a grower wants to improve pesticide performance, should he invest in new chemistries, change herbicide application timing, add an adjuvant to improve performance, or just add more glyphosate? A good retail agronomist can be invaluable in working through the decision process.”

Some of the newer pesticides coming to market have very specific adjuvant recommendations such as MSO (methylated seed oil) and ammonium sulfate, providing expanded opportunity for retailers. 

Industry Trends

For this season and beyond, experts say dealers can look for more:

•  Low-Use-Rate Products. “We’re hearing a big demand from growers and applicators for less handling of materials,” says Leman, “and the technology continues to find ways to get more efficacy out of smaller quantities.”

High surfactant oil concentrates such as Superb HC and Destiny HC are providing excellent effectiveness at rates substantially lower than older oils, says Winfield’s Senst. Kalo Inc.’s TRONIC — a Crop Oil Concentrate/MSO replacement — can be used at rates as low as one to three pints, with the same efficacy as higher-rate products.

•  Multiple Action Offerings. New products combine water conditioning, spreader/deposition, and drift control properties. For instance, Brandt’s Prolec — which debuted last year — is described as a penetrant/nonionic surfactant/deposition and drift control agent. From Winfield Solutions, AgriSolutions Class Act NC and Alliance also feature several technologies at work.

Precision Laboratories has found that Border Xtra 8L (a liquid ammonium sulfate plus HPG polymer-based activator premix) teamed with its new Persist Ultra (an MSO) showed effective drift and weed control with glyphosate and saflufenacil-based (such as BASF ‘s Kixor) chemistries. UCPA’s Herzfeld says growers were pleased with performance of its newcomer last year, Astound — a water conditioner/nonionic surfactant premix.

For brand new multi-task products for 2010 from Wilbur-Ellis and United Suppliers, see our accompanying chart.

•  Water Conditioning Applica­tions. The use of water conditioners positioned with glyphosate brands continues to grow, says Peka­rek. “These adjuvants have a good following with applicators looking to enhance glyphosate efficacy without the handling issues of dry ammonium sulfate.” He adds that Speedway, Uni­ted Suppliers’ stand-alone spray activator water conditioner, is now used on nearly 8 million acres.

•  Emphasis On Formulation Quality. Pekarek also explains how CPDA is now lending its expertise to increase quality control in the adjuvant market. The group initiated a certification program — supported by EPA and major pesticide manufacturers — to support good management practices involving 1) the disclosure of percentage surfactant content in a formulation; 2) toxicity disclosure; and 3) the use of only appropriate and accepted language on the certified adjuvant label. Once an adjuvant has gone through the process and been accepted as certified, it will carry the “CPDA Certified” logo on the container.

“Dealers will know that a rigorous standard was followed in producing the adjuvant,” says Pekarek. “This will help to clean up some of the lower tier ‘bathtub’ brands of adjuvants that show up in the marketplace.”

•  Creative Adjuvant Marketing. For instance. Helena Chemical is co-formulating adjuvants with pesticides in its Value-Added Products line. Three such offerings will be available in 2010: Avaris fungicide, TapOut selective grass herbicide, and Velossa non-selective broadspectrum herbicide. All contain an adjuvant system that is designed to provide superior performance, says Nash.

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