Herbicides For 2013: Loading Up The Arsenal

Despite some pushback from the drought, increased awareness surrounding weed resistance and high commodity prices made 2012 a solid year for herbicide sales, according to industry experts. Likewise, 2013 looks to continue that trend as products composed of three or more modes of action and offering enhanced application flexibility enjoy increased adoption in the market.

Along with much anticipated dicamba- and HPPD-tolerant traits coming to market, 2013 looks to be a breakout year for soil residuals — a fact University of Arkansas Associ­ate Professor Dr. Jason Norsworthy echoed in a July interview at a Bayer CropScience “Respect The Rotation” event.

“I recently asked a group of growers, ‘Do you need new technology or new modes of action to control your weeds?’ and the majority of the guys said ‘Yeah, but we need new traits more’,” said Norsworthy. “Then I asked how many of them are using a full-rate residual herbicide, and only about a quarter of them said yes. So, we have a lot of tools that we’re not utilizing as well as we should be, and residual herbicides are one of them.”

Dow AgroScience’s Ryan Messner, corn herbicide product manager, characterized 2012 as an “interesting year” for the company’s herbicides portfolio.

Spring came early, folks got out in the field and everything looked great initially with a lot of growers utilizing residuals — and then the drought kicked in,” says Messner. “In some areas and with certain products, we began to see some weed breakthroughs, just because they couldn’t get the product watered-in, and herbicide activation became a major concern.”

According to Messner, SureStart and Keystone NXT herbicides took the baton for Dow in 2012, utilizing three modes of action and an application flexibility that Messner says sets both products up for increased adoption as climate variability likely increases over the next decade.

Unpredictable Mother Nature

“I feel like we say this every single year: Mother Nature, you just can’t predict her,” says Messner. “She throws curveballs and 2012 was no different — she threw us a curve on the rain. These two residual herbicides offer growers the ability to treat either early in the season up to pre-plant, and from pre-plant all the way up to 11 inches tall corn.”

Keystone NXT also requires merely ¼-inch water to activate in the soil, giving growers added value as opposed to some of Dow’s competitors, according to Messner. “With some of our competitor’s products requiring ½-inch of water or more to activate, it becomes a great selling point for retailers.”

For 2013, the company anticipates registration of four new corn herbicide brands: FullTime NXT, Keystone NXT, Keystone LA NXT and Surpass NXT, all of which “offer outstanding mixing and handling characteristics that build upon proven weed control solutions that retailers have positioned for battling resistance and hard-to-control grasses and broadleaf weeds,” according to Messner.

“We’re committed to building products to fit retailers’ needs,” says Messner. “In many cases, they are extremely busy during planting time and have limited amounts of people and equipment, so they need products that can be applied early, they need flexibility because as demand grows, sometimes they simply don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Dave Downing, product brand leader with MANA Crop Protection, says 2012 played out to be extremely challenging with drought conditions putting a dent in yields across the Midwest. “Farmers who felt the worst of it are ready to move on and focus on next year’s crop,” he says.

MANA is also looking ahead as it prepares to introduce several new herbicides in 2013.

“With glyphosate and HPPD/tria­zine inhibitor chemistries showing up on resistance watch lists, our new Torment herbicide comes into play at the right time,” Downing says. “With two modes of action (imazethapyr/fomesafen), this tool complements a planned glyphosate or glufosinate post-sequential approach to resistance.”

Torment lists 65 grasses and broadleaves for control. It can be applied pre- or early post-emergence with 45 days of residual activity. EPA registration is due before 2013 planting.

Downing continues in saying weed control champions like paraquat, metolachlor, atrazine, metribuzin and trifluralin have a renewed presence, and with good reason. Re-adoption of gold star, standard active ingredients continues to aid cotton growers in staying ahead of glyphosate-resistant pigweed through the Roundup Ready PLUS program.

“For glyphosate to remain viable, we’ve got to encourage growers to incorporate multiple modes of action into their prescriptions before resistance strikes. Older chemistries are the new front-runners and are coming back into play with tremendous success.”

MANA is launching several AI product extensions this season with an advanced formulation as part of their differentiation, including Rumble (fomesafen), Vise (metolachlor/fomesafen) and Tailwind (metribuzin/metolachlor). Registration is expected April 1.

More innovations from MANA are on the horizon. “With formulation technology a priority, growers will see new inputs from proven AIs with sophisticated improvements in efficacy, handling and safety,” he concludes.

Another well-performing 2012 product featured in the PLUS program is Valent USA’s Cobra herbicide, of which product marketing manager Trey Soud says “This year, more growers looked to Cobra as a preferred tank mix partner with glyphosate to control their tough weeds.”

Valent’s Valor and Valor XLT are also PLUS program incentivized, as well as among 2012’s top selling pre-emergence residual products in soybeans, according to the company. Fierce herbicide (launched in corn in 2012), combining two modes of action with residual activity up to two weeks longer than other herbicides, also fared well under the year’s drier conditions.

“Longer-lasting residual activity takes the pressure off post-emergence herbicides so that they can be applied at the appropriate time to smaller weeds, instead of being applied as a rescue scenario,” notes Soud. “The longer residual also decreases the amount of time the weeds compete with the crop.”

For next year, Valent expects registration for Fierce in soybeans in time for the 2013 season. “Fierce soybean registration will bring growers the most consistent, longest-lasting control of the broadest spectrum of broadleaves and grasses, including species that are resistant to glyphosate and other chemistries,” says Soud while also noting the same two week residual staying power as its corn counterpart.

Good Problems

Bayer CropScience enjoyed two-fold success in 2012. LibertyLink soybeans and Liberty herbicide, enjoying a market share that trait licensing manager Jon Fischer estimates at around 15% in southern markets, performed remarkably well (despite some supply issues) as growers battled the glyphosate-resistance onslaught. On the corn side, Al Luke, Bayer strategic business lead for broad acre crops, reports an increase in sales for all four selective corn herbicides (Corvus, Laudis, Balance Flexx and Capreno).

“We had an outstanding year with LibertyLink sales in 2012, so these are some of the problems we like to have,” says Fischer of the supply issue. “It means we’re getting good engagement with our customers. Whether its variety performance or herbicide performance, our market research tells us we’re at a 90% overall satisfaction level with the LibertyLink system in soybeans, so we’re very excited about the progress we’ve been making.”

Fischer assures there should be no supply issues in 2013. “We’re going into this season with the expectation that we’re going to have a pretty close alignment of seed and herbicide supply, and we’ve put steps in place to ensure both growers and retailers get their supply where they need it and when they need it.”

Adds Luke: “My advice to retailers is to get with their distributors as early as possible and lock those orders in.”

Both the fact that the LibertyLink system has no known resistance issues in row crops, as well as grower-driven demand, are the main catalysts behind the product’s recent success, according to Fischer, a selling point many retailers were more than happy to take advantage of.  “We’ve seen retailers that are willing to use the uniqueness of the product as a differentiator for their business — really seizing the opportunity to offer their growers that next level of service.”

Looking forward, Bayer CropSci­ence is working with MS Technologies to develop a soybean herbicide-tolerant trait package that features tolerance to an HPPD-inhibitor (isoxaflutole [IFT]) and glyphosate herbicides. Pending regulatory approvals, the stack should be available in 2016. Balance Bean, the first herbicide of its kind available for use on soybeans, will be available concurrently with IFT/glyphosate-tolerant soybeans. Bayer CropScience also is working with Syngenta to develop an HPPD/LibertyLink/glyphosate-tolerant stack expected to hit the marketplace towards the end of the decade.

“We’re still advocating three active modes of action and the rotation of other crops and other herbicide systems into the mix,” says Fischer. “The more effective tools you have, it really does help fight resistance.”

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