Herbicide Research: Going Small For Big Results

For nearly a decade, experts have been proclaiming that nanotechnology is on the verge of revolutionizing the food processing and packaging industries. But nanotechnology shows its most promising breakthroughs much earlier in the food production chain — on the farm.

Crop protection companies have started to manufacture products containing particles of active ingredients that are at or near the nanoscale definition of 1 nm to 100 nm. At this size, they are 2,000 to 50,000 times smaller than particles in conventional crop protection products. A nanotechnology herbicide, for example, will contain many trillions of particles of active ingredient per litre. The extra surface area created by the reduction in particle size boosts potency, accelerates uptake by the plant, increases solubility in the spray tank and reduces or even eliminates the risk of settling and separation. In addition, nanotechnology is spawning a variety of breakthrough products such as herbicide sensors that can dramatically reduce the amount of product used and toxicity of herbicide and pesticide treatments.

Nanoparticles are created using one of two methods. One involves grinding the crop protection products down to a couple of microns in a single pass-through a large disk mill (300 or 500 liter machine) for the mean PS. The method used by most crop protection manufacturers to develop nano-sized particles is through the comminution of larger, coarser particles, which is referred to as the dispersion or top-down method. But getting larger particles down to submicron particle size requires high energy density, achieved through wet comminution with a media mill.

Media milling — or grinding — is the most well-established manufacturing method for nanoparticle production. Stirred media mills, for example, are used in many different industries to reduce particle size, including lithium ion battery manufacturers, ceramic manufacturers, electronic component manufacturers and more. Nanogrinding with a stirred media mill offers key benefits for crop protection manufacturers including excellent particle size control, comparative cost effectiveness and equipment scalability.

Stirred media mills continue advancing, and agitator design is an important consideration. The system creates grinding and dispersion by agitating the beads with the pins or pegs on the agitator shaft. Uniform compression throughout the chamber’s length is key to this process. This concept results in total utilization of the media charge and mill capacity for greater efficiency in particle size reduction.

Another key consideration should also be keeping particles free from contamination during the milling process. Metal grinding equipment can slough off metal particles leading to accidental contamination, affecting the final quality agrochemical. Ceramic mills, free of metal grinding shafts and chambers, can prevent this contamination and ensure that the performance of the coatings isn’t compromised.

Out Of The Weeds

The potential of nanotechnology to create crop protection products with revolutionary properties is prompting many of the world’s largest chemical companies such as Syngenta Crop Protection, BASF and Bayer CropScience to speed up their commercial development. Also, DuPont Crop Protection has provided expertise and support for the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, a 10-year $12 billion research program to date.

These companies have been testing the performance of crop protection products containing particles of conventional size that can be boosted simply by adding a catalyst containing nano-scale particles. BASF and Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Cooperation, jointly developed herbicide-tolerant soybeans that were green-lighted by the CTNBio, the Brazilian Biosafety Technical Commission. This decision will allow BASF and Embrapa to bring the new production system with the brand name Cultivance to Brazilian farmers. Both companies are now seeking the approval for this technology in key export markets, such as China and the United States. The Cultivance Production System combines herbicide-tolerant soybean varieties with BASF’s broad-spectrum imidazolinone class of herbicides, tailored to regional conditions — and was made possible in part by nanotechnology.

The Cultivance Production System, which combines herbicide-tolerant soybean varieties with BASF’s broadspectrum imidazolinone class of herbicides, tailored to regional conditions.

According to statements on BASF’s Web site, the new technology offers growers a production system that effectively manages a broad spectrum of weeds. Designed for post-emergence application, Cultivance herbicides provide growers with convenience and flexibility to apply the herbicide as needed to control weeds during the first few weeks of crop growth. A single application provides season-long control of both broadleaf and grass weeds, including those difficult to control. Fewer herbicide applications per hectare will reduce the use of machinery and labor, reducing costs for growers as well as decreasing the release of CO2 into the environment.

For the past five years, however, crop protection research has been focusing more so on ways to use nanotechnology to attack a weed’s seed coating and prevents weeds from germinating. This approach destroys the weed even when it is buried in soil and prevents it from growing in even the most favorable conditions, say the researchers. Due to the small proportions of the nano-scale herbicides, they can easily blend with soil and attack seeds that are buried below the reach of tillers and conventional herbicides. This also allows growers to prevent the spreading of weeds that will multiply through stem cuttings from tilling.

Sensor Use

Researchers at the University of Texas-El Paso confirm that plants can also soak up nanoparticles that could be industrially harvested. In one particle farming experiment, alfalfa plants were grown on artificially gold-rich soil; gold nanoparticles in the roots and along the entire shoot of the plants that had physical properties like those produced using conventional chemistry techniques but are expensive and harmful to the environment. With nanotechnology, the metals are simply and easily extracted just by dissolving the organic material.

Thanks to nanotechnology, the agriculture industry may also be able to use new highly efficient devices or sensors to help control release of crop protection products. Also known as precision farming, this process uses nanoparticles to store and release pesticides/herbicides or fertilizers in a controlled manner. Nanoclay capsules, for example, can store fertilizers and release them slowly, allowing only one application during the cycle of the crop, thus saving time and fuel for the grower.

Furthermore, nanosensors can help growers make better growing decisions and respond faster to potential problems, as they can help monitor soil moisture, temperature, pH, nitrogen availability and measure crop growth. They can even help growers diagnose diseases before symptoms are visible or help them carry out microbiological tests quickly, seeing results within an hour.

Growing In Our Fields Tomorrow

Like all things, new nanotechnology approaches need to be carefully introduced for agricultural applications only after thorough evaluation of the benefits and risks, and identification of stewardship practices to accompany practical implementation. Yet there is great promise in the field of agrochemicals, farming, and food production with new products being trialed around the world.

Could nanotechnology be the key to producing commercial foodstuffs with strange and fun properties like soda that changes colors or cereal bars that adjust their sugar content to accommodate individuals’ various dietary restrictions?

While nanotechnology appears to have the potential to increase the sales appeal of many foods in developed countries, is it a magic wand? Some questions still remain in terms of long-term safety.

However, if — like research suggests — nanoherbicides can decrease or eliminate the effect of excess toxins on the environment, and allow growers around the world to increase their yields at lower costs so that third-world countries can someday feed their citizens — well, then that truly is magical.

Leave a Reply

Herbicides Stories

Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Winter Wheat
HerbicidesNew Wheat Herbicide Helps Growers Manage Resistant Weeds
August 2, 2016
Quelex herbicide from Dow AgroSciences is now registered by the U.S. EPA, providing wheat growers a new solution for advanced Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
HerbicidesStudy: Fall Weed Controls Can Make Significant Impact On Glyphosate-Resistant Palmer Amaranth
July 28, 2016
An article published in the latest issue of the journal Weed Science shows that adopting harvest-time and post-harvest weed controls Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
HerbicidesSpecial Issue Of Weed Science Explores Human Aspects Of Herbicide Resistance
July 27, 2016
Weeds that evolve resistance to herbicides are a serious threat to global agricultural production. In this Special Issue of Weed Science, Read More
Trending Articles
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
Retail FacilitiesMarcus Construction Builds High-Speed Agronomy Center For Key Cooperative
July 7, 2016
Key Cooperative in Grinnell, IA, wanted a state-of-the-art Agronomy Center to better serve its customers. Marcus Construction delivered exactly that. Read More
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Latest News
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer: Corn Belt P and K Levels Lagging
August 24, 2016
A new DuPont Pioneer study conducted across 12 Corn Belt states demonstrates that growers may be leaving profit potential in Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patrio…
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Young Corn Plants
Industry NewsOABA Welcomes Nicole Wallace As Communication & Adm…
August 22, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association has hired Nicole Wallace as its communication and administrative coordinator. Wallace will help provide comprehensive communication Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsChemChina, Syngenta Receive Clearance From CFIUS
August 22, 2016
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) and Syngenta have announced that the companies have received clearance on their proposed transaction from the Read More
ManagementAg Industry Shows and Rumors
August 18, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the upcoming trade show schedule, crop protection merger updates, and content for Read More
MAGIE 2015
EquipmentMAGIE Takes The Pulse Of The Ag Retail Industry
August 18, 2016
Every year, one of the major highlights of my career as an ag journalist is attending the Midwest AG Industries Read More
MAGIE 2015 Overview
EquipmentPride In Professionalism On Display At MAGIE
August 18, 2016
The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) is proud to partner with CropLife IRON and continue the tradition of bringing Read More
SprayersJenner Ag To Debut 25th Anniversary Edition Case IH Pat…
August 18, 2016
Visitors at the 2016 Midwest Ag Industries Exhibition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL, will have a unique photo opportunity, as Jenner Read More
Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Industry NewsNew Partnership Provides Improved Representation At Ohi…
August 16, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) has retained Belinda Jones of Capitol Consulting Group, Inc. (CCG) for government relations work in Read More
Tissue testing
FertilizerMosaic: 6 Tips For Better Crop Nutrition In Corn
August 16, 2016
Late in the crop season is a good time to assess visual nutrient deficiencies and ensure early- and mid-season deficiencies Read More
WebinarsWebinar Schedule
August 14, 2016
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDowDuPont Update: EU Takes Closer Look at Merger
August 12, 2016
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. face months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe Read More
ManagementNews from InfoAg 2016 and Weed Wands
August 11, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review what happened at last week’s big Precision Ag event and a possible solution Read More