2011 Fungicide Review

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Recommendations and selling strategies for pest disease control in the upcoming growing season will likely reflect a new outlook for many of you. New fungicide preventive treatments, products, label modifications and management practices continue to evolve. With current commodities prices and increasing yield potential, it’s a new climate for the way growers think about this investment in crop protection.

Read on to learn what academic experts, manufacturers and hands-on managers like you believe that fungicides will fit into Midwest corn and soybean production systems in 2011.

Decision Factors in Corn

Midwest disease pathologists agree that it’s easy to use hindsight to gauge where fungicide treatments paid off with return on investment. The fly in the ointment is predicting how much preventive treatments and/or in-season foliar applications increase yields.

“We conducted trials at six different sites that well-represented the different latitudes in our long state, which is almost like three different states,” says Carl Bradley, University of Illinois Extension Plant Pathologist. “Overall, for the past three years, we’ve seen an average 7.58 bushel per acre yield advantage for disease control in corn. Of course, that’s an average. Under high disease pressure, we saw anywhere from a 15-20 bushel per acre yield response. That’s not rocket science when you’re dealing with fungicides.”

Currently, experts like Bradley, consider four primary factors in making corn fungicide decisions. On corn, Bradley advises you to consider:

•  Susceptibility of hybrids to key diseases
– Growers typically select hybrids based on good yield history in their fields, yet some germ plasm may not contain the best disease resistance package. In Northern Illinois, for example, gray leaf spot does not cause much yield drag in corn, while the disease affects the rest of the state. Northern corn leaf blight exists statewide and decreases yields.
•  Amount of residue at planting – Crop rotation and tillage practices play a role in disease control. Continuous corn and reduced tillage contribute to disease pathogens overwintering and creating more pressure to crop yields.
•  Later planting – Sometimes disease risk increases when Mother Nature doesn’t allow growers to plant at optimum spring timing. Under such conditions, fungicide control becomes more important.
•  Fields with history of foliar diseases – Retailers and growers may be aware of fields that historically see disease pressures. Perhaps these fields are protected from wind trees or are in valleys.

“Unfortunately, fungicide control doesn’t lend itself to easy ‘black and white’ decisions,” says Bradley. “Scouting prior to tasseling, revealing the severity of disease pressures and how many multiple disease factors are stacked will determine the economics and when to pull the trigger on foliar applications.”

Decision Factors in Soybeans

When it comes to soybeans, it’s a tougher decision says Alison Robertson, University of Iowa Extension Plant Pathologist.

“In our 2010 soybeans trials, we saw the best response in fields with the most disease pressure, such as frog-eye leaf spot treated with a fungicide like a strobilurin. The opportunity exists to gain magnificent yield response,” says Robertson.

No one really likes the ‘scouting’ word, she acknowledges, yet that’s one of the best ways to make fungicide decisions. We now know more about the crop susceptible diseases, which helps growers make decisions.

“The past three to four years we experienced extremely wet Midwest weather,” Robertson says. “When we look at weather data, it seems we’re getting wetter and wetter with more favorable conditions for disease to develop. Or, we could experience a drought. At this point, it’s just not an exact science.”

Preventive Options

Both Bradley and Robertson agree preventive fungicide treatments for corn and soybeans are gaining traction. With the growing investment in seed, fungicide treatments “are simply a good insurance policy, right up front,” say the two university experts.

In corn, Robertson says their research always shows a good correlation between yield and fungicides that protect against fusarium, pythium, rhizoctonia. And, as growers push to get into the field to plant earlier, the fungicides become increasingly important.

Seeding rates also play into the equation, she says. “With corn, growers will likely want to go with the recommended rates because corn plants don’t compensate for lost seedlings. With soybeans, growers may try to reduce rates because seedlings will branch out to compensate for a lost neighbor and grow more leaves and pods.”

Manufacturer Options

Based on third party statistics and BASF estimates, 11.7 million corn and 10 million soybean acres were treated with preventive/planned and curative/in-season fungicide applications in 2010. Overall, that’s less than 20 percent of US corn and soybeans are treated with foliar fungicides.

However, growers are becoming more educated about foliar fungicide expectations,” says Nick Fassler, Technical Market Manager, BASF Crop Protection. “In 2004, BASF sold no corn and soybean fungicides and that’s changed significantly.”

In addition to Headline fungicide, last year BASF introduced Headline AMP to provide added disease protection and resistance management through two modes of action. “We see Headline technology moving forward in the row crop market. Our yield trials involved grower teams who looked at a more managed program for higher yields vs. a more traditional program. In cases with a good herbicide foundation, good variety selection and added tools such as an insecticide or fungicide treatment, growers maximized the potential for more bushels per acre and saw higher yields.”

New for 2011, BASF offers a Plant Health educational tool to help growers evaluate the disease control and plant health benefits that can result from a fungicide investment. It may be viewed at www.planthealtheducation.com.

Also new from BASF for 2011, Headline Advantage offers growers an opportunity to earn a $100 per gallon rebate on Headline purchases made by March 15 along with savings benefits through Farm Plan offers.

Rex Wichert, Syngenta Fungicide Brand Manager, expects corn fungicide treatments to grow in 2011. “One area we evaluated in 2010 focused on early application of Quadris fungicide applied to corn at the V4 to V8 growth stages.

“This early timing is when the corn plant is determining the maximum size of the ear in terms of length and size around,” he continues. ”Protecting the corn from disease at this stage can provide yield and plant performance benefits. Increased stalk strength, better greening and delayed disease progression can result.”

In 150 on-farm trials throughout the Midwest last year, Syngenta evaluated Quadris early applications and saw positive crop health or plant performance response and an average six bushel per acre increase.

“An early application of fungicide, potentially mixed with a herbicide, saves a trip across the field and maximizes value of the fungicide application,” notes Wichert.

For 2011, Syngenta will continue to recommend R1 application timing, the reproductive stage around tasseling. A new label for Quilt Xcel fungicide received limited retailer and grower ability to trial it in 2010. Wichert expects that to change this year.

Quilt Xcel fungicide contains two active ingredients that provide both curative and longer-lasting preventive disease control. Wichert reports over 16 bushels per acre yield gains from the mid-to-late season treatment.

Quadris fungicide remains the Syngenta offering for soybeans. “Soybean fungicide-treated acres continue to gain interest, particularly in the past four years,” says Wichert. “To me, that proves growers feel it adds value.”

Seed Treatment Innovations

Fungicide seed treatment advances for 2011 give retailers another opportunity to enhance growers’ yield potential. The up-front convenience and insurance policy makes this method of disease protection increasingly attractive.

“Seed treatment represents another tool to manage some of those early-season disease pests,” says Tom Schaefer, Monsanto Acceleron Marketing Team Leader. “In corn, Acceleron seed treatment complements our new traits: SmartStax, Genuity, Vt Triple Pro and Vt Double Pro.”

Acceleron for corn contains fungicide with three active ingredients designed to manage key diseases: fusarium, rhizoctonia, below ground pests such as the corn rootworm complex and secondary corn borer.

New in soybeans for 2011, Monsanto will offer Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans with three choices: Untreated seed, Acceleron fungicide or Acceleron, insecticide treated seed.

“Seed treatments are the ‘cradle’ portion of ‘cradle to the grave’ protection,” says Mark Jirak, Syngenta Seedcare Crop Manager. “We’re seeing opportunities to raise the bar with the yield potential of the seeds farmers are putting in the ground by getting plants off to a healthy start.”

Syngenta will offer three seed treatment combinations with enhanced protection in 2011: Avicta Complete Corn, Maxim Quattro for corn and CruiserMaxx Plus for soybeans.

Avicta Complete Corn is a combination of separately registered products that provides Apron XL, Maxim XL and Dynasty fungicide seed treatments or Maxim Quattro fungicide seed treatments, plus Avicta nematicide seed treatment and Cruiser insecticide seed treatment.

Maxim Quattro fungicide for corn combines the active ingredients of Apron XL, Maxim 4FS, and Dynasty with thiabendazole, an active ingredient never-before registered for seed treatment to broaden the disease control spectrum on corn.

CruiserMaxx Plus for soybeans provides a higher rater of Apron XL fungicide treatment to enhance the early-season pythium and phytophthora protection that growers receive.

Retailer Perspectives

Selling fungicides for corn and beans represents an additional business opportunity for MFA-Inc. in Northwest Missouri, says retailer Jeff Meyer who manages the Guildford store.

“Soybean fungicides in my area definitely represent a growing trend,” says Meyer. For the past six years, seed treater equipment has boosted sales for his dealership. “I think growers feel they’re getting a bigger boost or bang for their buck. We treat seed with CruiserMaxx Beans or ApronMaxx.

“With the increasing price of seed beans, the fungicide investment makes sense as an extra insurance policy. The past three to four years brought extremely wet weather, making it tough to get into plant. My growers want to take all the precautions they can to avoid replanting. We’ve seen a boost in growers’ soybean seed population and plant health from fungicide treatments.”

Local side-by-side trials conducted in his area also add credibility, allowing both the sales force and growers to learn the value proposition.

Meyer adds, “I personally think fungicide treatment is a benefit no matter what type of farming operation; what type of soil, irrigated, non-irrigated, corn or beans.”

Retailer Dan Mogged, VanHorn, Inc., finds fungicides a tougher sell in his Cerro Gordo, IL, trade area. “Our corn yields here in Central Illinois are traditionally so good – 200-plus bushels per acre -that many growers just don’t want to make the extra investment,” he says.

With the dealership’s recent investment in seed treater equipment, Mogged sees opportunity. “I think we’ll grow from around 5 percent of soybean seed treated last year to 50 percent or more this year.”

At Panhandle Coop, Scottsbluff, NE, Cody Loyd reports, “Even though fungicides may not show a great yield boost each year, the plant health piece makes it a good investment. We advise growers to budget annually for fungicides.”

Meyer is a freelance writer for Lobo Communications, Inc., Manchester, MO.

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