Fungicides: An Integral Piece Of The Plant Health Puzzle

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Despite overall sales figures for fungicides being down at most ag retailers, many expect a rebound in 2013 as growers look to eke out every single additional bushel of yield.

“Even with the reduction of acres treated in 2012, producer interest in fungicide applications remains high and we continue to recommend a total agronomic approach to disease management,” says Steve Crowley, MFA Inc. senior agronomist. “Following a total agronomic approach ensures that unnecessary fungicide applications are avoided and also reduces the risk of developing resistance.”

MANA Crop Protection’s Dave Downing, senior product leader, adds: “Market research continues to prove that minimizing disease pressure also supports increased stress tolerance and better growth efficiency. Plus, improvements in stalk strength, seed quality potential and overall plant health continue to be on the upswing as new innovations are adopted out in the field. All of these benefits demonstrate why fungicides are needed to increase yields and improve grower return on investment.”

Cromley reports that, while the drought did hurt fungicide sales at MFA, it also hampered many of the common diseases that rely on warm, moist field conditions to thrive.

“Disease pressures in corn and soybeans were low in 2012 due to the hot and dry conditions,” he says. “However, in our area we did experience light to moderate levels of powdery mildew last spring in a few wheat fields before the rain quit.”

“A surging number of diseases have crossed over from corn and other crops to soybeans,” adds Downing. “White mold is a good example of this. Without question, disease risk on beans is on the increase – and growers know it.”

Also of concern in the industry is growing resistance in soybeans to traditional chemistries. “Resistance to strobilurins is a concern and growers need to be on high alert if using this type of product year after year,” says Downing. “While there’s no way to prevent resistance to strobilurins – pre-mixtures and different modes of action in alternative products should be considered for adoption to minimize ongoing use of these at-risk fungicides.”

Manufacturer Insights

Although drought conditions are not the most conducive to disease development, 2012 was not a lost year from a research standpoint, according to Syngenta’s Eric Tedford, technical product lead.

“While it’s somewhat counter-intuitive to have disease pressure when you see such dry growing conditions, we have discovered some pretty interesting field trial data this year with our fungicides in dry conditions,” says Tedford.

In 2012, Syngenta commissioned 80 grower trials throughout the Midwest, early applying Quilt Xcel fungicide on corn at the V4-V8 growth stage. What Syngenta discovered even under very dry conditions, Quilt Xcel provided a yield benefit that was higher than in previous years, when growing conditions were much better.  The average yield increase in 2012 was 10 bushels per acre (bu./acre) versus five in previous years.

Syngenta also saw yields grow when applying at the R1 growth stage (15 bu./acre increase). “We believe a lot of these increases have to do with the physiological benefits of these fungicides,” says Tedford of the study results. “Quilt Xcel has been shown to reduce stomatal conductance, or the passing of water through the plant stomates, the natural openings in plants that allow exchange of water and gases. This improves a plant’s water use efficiency. As plants regulate water loss more efficiently, soil moisture is conserved and plants are better equipped to tolerate periods of hot, dry weather.”

Syngenta commissioned a 2012 study with Quilt Xcel in corn, grown under what Tedford describes as “really heavy drought conditions.” In that study, a regime of strictly strobilurin chemistries produced an eight bu./acre increase over the untreated check, while Quilt Xcel came in at 10.5 bu./acre in the same conditions.

Quadris Top, featuring both preventative (azoxystrobin) and curative (difenoconazole) modes of action, is useful in geographies experiencing frogeye leaf spot, or QOI resistance, says Tedford.  “Our Quadris and Quadris Top fungicides feature systemic mobility, allowing the active ingredients to move throughout the plant, increasing the product’s efficiency.”

Other reported benefits of Syngenta fungicides cited by Tedford include the reduction of stalk lodging, improved harvest efficiency that saves growers an average $10 per acre in fuel and equipment costs, and healthier plants that allow the crop more time to utilize the sun’s energy for better yield potential in corn and soybeans.

For 2013, the Greensboro, NC-based company plans to release a new unnamed fungicide, pending regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, in nearby Research Triangle Park, NC, BASF Crop Protection enjoyed notable success primarily with two products, Priaxor, a Xemium brand foliar-applied fungicide in soybeans, and Headline AMP in corn.

“Priaxor was brand new in 2012, though we had a limited launch last year because of the timing of registration,” says Dr. Gary Fellows, technical marketing manager. “We’re going forward with a very large launch in 2013 with Priaxor.”

Increased yield potential as well as enhanced residual activity are two distinguishing characteristics of Priaxor, according to Fellows.

“We normally get a rather substantial yield increase with Headline fungicide, and Priaxor actually outperformed Headline in 2012 soybean side-by-side trials by a little over two bushels per acre,” says Fellows. “It also offers a more-thorough coverage for disease protection and gives users about a week more of activity (than Headline).”

BASF recommends growers apply Priaxor to soybeans at the R3 timing, the reproductive stage, to get the most disease control and plant health benefits.

Additionally, Priaxor has been formulated with what Fellows termed “advanced plant health” benefits, and can be applied pre-tassle in corn in combination with Headline AMP post-tassel.

“It actually works in cooperation with Headline AMP to not only increase disease control, but increase growth efficiency and stress tolerance in the field,” he says. “You also get what we like to call ‘post-infection disease control’. We like to use that term instead of curative, because in our minds curative activity is really a misnomer. Nothing can completely cure a plant disease. You can stop it or slow it down, but if a lesion kills part of the plant that part will never grow back. That’s why all fungicides work best when applied preventatively, or very, very early in the infection period.”

In corn, Priaxor applied pre-tassle is BASF’s primary product of recommendation for the 2013 growing season. “Applying Priaxor between V5 V10, specifically around the V8 to V10 stage is really where you start to see major yield enhancements,” advises Fellows. “And the long residual activity that we get with Priaxor takes us up through that tassle application, so then a grower could come back with Headline AMP at tassle and really magnify that effect and get very, very long term protection.”

According to Fellows, BASF discovered in-furrow applications of Headline in corn to be beneficial as well.

“Let’s say you’re putting on starter fertilizer in-furrow at planting, we’ve seen very good results putting in Headline at that timing, helping to increase emergence and consistency of stand emergence, while also preventing some early season diseases,” explains Fellows.

As for its plans in the near-future, BASF continues to tweak its products going forward. “We’re always working on new formulations and looking to enhance and to make the best better,” says Fellows. “That’s what we feel we’ve done in soybeans with Priaxor and with Headline AMP in corn. We’re always working to increase the consistency and level of yield response and increasing disease control for growers.”

For its part, MANA Crop Protection expects to see an increase in prevalence of white mold disease in soybeans, according to Downing. “Newer and more exclusive offerings like Incognito 4.5F are gaining wide spread acceptance as critical solutions to issues like white mold disease on soybeans and dry beans,” he says. “With the anticipation for white mold spreading into more U.S. locations in 2013, growers will greatly benefit from this type of customized solution.”

Also for 2013, MANA has plans to introduce Bumper ES, a new propiconazole formulation for broad spectrum control of foliar fungal disease in both corn and soybeans.

“Bumper ES touts an advanced formulation, which allows for highly effective disease control at the same levels of performance found in emusifiable concentrate (EC) products — all while reducing impact on air quality,” says Downing. “It will offer preventive and curative control over anthracnose, blight, brown leaf spot, frogeye leaf spot, gray leaf spot, powdery mildew and rust. And as a Group 3 fungicide, it minimizes the development of resistance when used in rotation.”

Bumper ES is slated to join MANA’s KlearSky Technology brand of products, which embody a range of attributes that pledge to deliver high performance and reduced environmental impact.

Looking even further ahead to early 2014, MANA plans on launching a combination product with both strobilurin and triazole chemistries, according to Downing. “This product will have broad spectrum disease control on corn, soybean and wheat. And with two modes of action, growers will finally have a state-of-the-art control tool in order to manage surging resistance problems. This latest MANA innovation has already been launched in Argentina and is delivering excellent results to date.”

DuPont Crop Protection, by its own account a relatively new player in the growing foliar fungicides market, has a brand new fungicide in the hopper for corn, soybean and cereal growers in 2013, as Aproach received EPA registration back in November and state registrations are expected in time for the growing season.

“Aproach has unique properties that will deliver results growers can see, from protection against production-limiting diseases to increased harvestable yield,” says John Chrosniak, regional director, North America. “Aproach is another powerful tool that will help growers address the challenge of producing high-quality crops to feed a growing world population.”

With a broad-spectrum of disease control, including white mold disease in soybeans and a new active from the strobilurin class of chemistries, Aproach pledges both preventative and curative activity, as well as the ability of the active ingredient to redistribute throughout the crop canopy.

“Since 2009 we’ve been doing a lot of research and testing, proving the effectiveness of our products, and we put together some large scale field demos in 2011 and 2012 putting Aproach in real world situations,” says Todd Robran, fungicide portfolio manager. “What we saw was an 8.4 bu./acre advantage in corn versus the untreated and a 3.5 bu/acre increase in soybeans.”

For 2014, DuPont is reportedly looking at launching Aproach Prima, pending EPA approval.

“Prima is going to incorporate a second active ingredient with the Aproach chemistry, giving growers in high QOI resistance areas as yet another tool in corn, soybeans and cereals,” says Robran.

Grassi is the Assistant Editor for the CropLife Media Group, including CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines and the PrecisionAg Special Reports. He joined the staff in February 2012.

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