Coming off 2012 and the worst drought many in the Corn Belt had ever witnessed, growers and dealers wondered what 2013 might hold for disease pressure. “Midwest geographies started out very wet, but by July the rain had shut off, leaving growers really debating whether to invest in a fungicide or not,” describes Andrew Fisher, commercial product lead for fungicides at Syngenta. The 2014 season will pose a similar problem for producers, though crop prices, not weather, may be the deciding factor.
Chemical companies stand ready with a host of new products to address disease and to protect and improve yields. It will be up to dealers to guide their customers in planning fungicide programs.
Single Active Ingredients
With two million acres treated, 2013 saw the successful launch of DuPont’s new strobilurin fungicide Aproach (picoxystrobin), targeted for soybeans, corn and cereals. “Growers have really been able to see improved yield and quality themselves,” says Todd Robran, DuPont fungicide portfolio manager.
The product intro was particularly timely as many soybean producers were faced with white mold problems, in some cases severe outbreaks. Robran says the normal application time for Aproach on soybeans would be the R3 stage, but if growers need to target white mold, he recommends they move up the treatment, to the R2 stage.
The DuPont team carefully watched how Aproach did in corn, and they were encouraged by better-than-anticipated performance in terms of improving the yield, quality and harvestability of the crop. Robran notes that DuPont has the opportunity to work closely with Pioneer to help match up Aproach with the hybrids that could benefit the most from a foliar application, so growers can see a “nice return on that investment.”
Disease-wise, Robran says Aproach offered good control of three main problems: Gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and rust.
Aproach is applied at the V1 (tassel) to R1 stage on corn, to offer the most protection of leaves in the uppermost part of the corn canopy as well as all the way down to the ear leaf. Protecting those leaves leads to improved grain fill, test weight and kernel depth, says Robran.
Some growers looking to more intensively manage their corn acres and push yields have added an additional application at the V5 stage (when the plant is 12 to 16 inches tall). “That will keep early season disease inoculum in check and pick up foliar health benefits,” says Robran.
New Importance Of Premixes
With limited active ingredients available, chemical companies are taking to combining effective fungicides. For 2014, DuPont has launched Aproach Prima, which adds the triazole cyproconazole to picoxystrobin in a premix. Robran says the triazole will be especially valuable in the mid-South, where it has been used “very sparingly” so far and where soybean growers are facing increased disease pressure from some strobilurin-resistant strains of frog eye leaf spot.
In the Midwest, Aproach Prima is especially designed for growers aiming to maximize yields as well as producers of higher-value corn, including seed corn and white, waxy and food grade hybrids — “crops where yield and quality are going to be of tantamount importance,” says Robran.
With the frogeye leafspot problem accelerating, 2013 was a good time for the first widespread sales of Syngenta’s newcomer Quadris Top SB, a premix of azoxystrobin and difenoconazole. Fisher sees the resistance spreading not only across the South but also into the southern Midwest. “Strobilurin chemistries across the board just aren’t controlling the disease,” he says. “With that, Quadris Top SB was an outstanding fit — and the brand actually catapulted into a very good sales year.” Syngenta’s forecasts show quite a few geographies are planning to increase use of the product even more in 2014.
Foliar application on row crops is actually a new approach for this particular strobilurin/triazole combination. It’s previously been used as a seed treatment and as a foliar treatment in some vegetables and specialty crops.
Fisher points out Quadris Top SB not only controls many diseases but helps crops deal with stresses, generating an improved “plant health” effect. For instance, growers have seen a four to eight bushel per acre yield increase in soybeans. Fisher says “that’s a really good return on investment — you’re looking at a 3:1 or 4:1 return vs. what they’re paying for the fungicide.”
January 1 was the day MANA officially began marketing its new fungicide Custodia, the first premix available for azoxystrobin and tebuconazole.
“The reason we’re excited about new Custodia is that we’ve taken two systemic products that complement each other for an end result of heavy-hitting disease control for use on multiple crops,” says Matt Bradley, Custodia brand leader. “Both active ingredients in the formulation provide qualities including speed of disease knockdown which results in longer protection. It also reduces or eliminates the need for an additional fungicide applications during the season.
MANA’s new offering delivers curative and preventative control on a wide array of diseases including Cercospora on soybeans, Grey leaf spot on corn and stripe rust and leaf spot on wheat.
According to Bradley, Custodia first and foremost is designed to control diseases. In addition, he says data shows that Custodia can optimizes yield during periods when non-optimal photosynthesis periods occur. “This supports MANA’s message that this new fungicide can help drive yield increases and stalk health up until harvest,” says Bradley.
Specific to resistance management, Bradley says “with few new active ingredients coming to the marketplace, growers need to be very cognizant of stewardship practices that keep fungicide chemistry in rotation in order to maintain product viability for years to come.”
Another premix that promises more systemic action than other fungicides is Syngenta’s Quilt Xcel, a combination of azoxystrobin and propiconazole, which saw its first year of widespread use in 2013. Fisher says with the activity, new leaves and plant parts are protected as the crop grows.
Quilt Xcel also protects plants from environmental stresses, allowing them to retain more moisture. In corn, it’s also helped produce longer ears, extended grain fill and improved harvestability. “The plant is not cannibalizing the starches within the stalk, keeping it healthier,” Fisher explains.
In 2014, BASF expects additional crop registrations for Priaxor, a premix containing pyraclostrobin — the same active ingredient as the company’s star performer Headline — and fluxapyroxad (Xemium fungicide), says Brianne Reeves, BASF technical marketing specialist, plant health fungicides. New uses include in-furrow use for soybeans as well as sorghum and sugarcane. In corn, Priaxor is applied pre-tassel to complement a post-tassel application of Headline AMP. Also expected is registration for Sercadis fungicide in rice.
Making The Sale
These product line-ups are impressive, but will your customers see the value? While five years of higher commodity prices may have encouraged growers to include fungicides in their crop protection programs, recent price drops may make customers pause. MANA’s Bradley says his team is working to help grower-customers better understand how financial conditions may impact crop protection decisions this coming year. “We’ve found that fungicide applications are usually the easiest of all crop inputs for growers to ‘drop out’ or exclude from their overall crop protection programs,” he says.
Bradley points out that growers have been willing to spend money on high-priced genetics and expensive seed treatment. If growers plan to spend that much money for these related inputs, it only makes sense that they need to understand a hybrid or variety’s sensitivity to disease,” he says. Bradley says budgeting for a fungicide application usually pays for itself and should be an annual consideration.
Robran says it’s important for dealers to sit down with their growers to help position the foliar fungicides with them. “Look at less of a one size fits all approach where you go in and treat every acre and more of a strategic approach where you treat the acres that are going to benefit the most from a foliar application,” he explains. “Those may be acres in continuous corn, with higher value hybrids, with more narrow-row spacing, or those planted to a corn hybrid or soybean variety that would just benefit from a little more disease protection.”
Syngenta’s Fisher had an interesting point: “I would remind all of us that in 2009 when the fungicide market was just starting to grow in the Midwest, the corn price in ROI modeling was $4.25 per bushel — which is very similar to where it is today. Bottom line, even at $4.25 corn, a fungicide like Quilt Xcel still delivers a grower a 3:1 or 4:1 ROI. So it’s a very good investment.
“I would actually say at $4.25 corn it’s more important to maintain that ROI than when those corn prices are at $6,” he says.
MANA’s Bradley would add that retailers and crop consultants serve a critical role in providing growers with accurate information for how and when to adopt fungicides onto their crops. “Grower interpretation of how best to use a fungicide to their advantage is an ongoing educational process. Solid recommendations from retailers and consultants is at the core of grower success and return-on-investment from relying on these kinds of input,” he explains.