Battling Bugs For Yields

When measuring up the 2007 season, Aaron Locker, FMC product manager, sees a batch of challenges, some unique to this time and place in corn and soybean production. “I would boil them down to three broad categories: insecticide resistance, shifts in pest spectrums, and “our old friend the weather,” he says.

With the opportunities of more corn acres, it’s all really going to come down to protecting and increasing stand and yield, he believes.

Pest Shifts

Locker notes that the at-plant insecticide business in general has steadily been declining, mainly due to the adoption of seed treatments and GMO seeds. As a result, pests like cutworms have been flaring up in the Eastern Corn Belt as have the variant rootworms in the middle Belt, he says. He also saw “a lot of everything” last year – wireworms, grubs, armyworm – in assorted hot spots.

“Growers have a good base in a seed treatment or GMO seed, but may have to add something to broaden the spectrum,” he says. That’s where FMC’s new Capture LFR (Liquid Fertilizer Ready) could come in, a liquid formulation of bifenthrin that mixes with liquid fertilizer as easily as it does with water. “Growers can plant, fertilize, and protect their seed investment in one trip, dramatically reducing fuel costs,” says Locker.

Mike Snyder of AMVAC Chemicals also sees the transgenic pressures – in the form of two key issues for dealers entering the season: “helping growers manage corn rootworm pests on refuge acres and maintaining profitability as transgenic varieties displace more profitable granular insecticides.

AMVAC makes the SmartBox application system which handles Aztec 4.67G, Force 3G, Fortress 5G – and for 2007, Lorsban 15G and Thimet 20G. “University extension entomologists recommend that growers give strong consideration to granular soil insecticides on refuge acres to ensure good performance,” says Snyder.

Soybean Enemies

Most of the soybean specialists we talked with expressed concern that this is the “on” year for soybean aphid, a pest that seems to hit high populations every other season. “We have battled infestations of soybean aphids annually in the Midwest since 2001; however, how broad and massive the infestation becomes will ultimately depend upon our summer weather patterns,” says Hank King, Dow AgroSciences, maker of the Lorsban 4E.

Says Locker: “With the warm weather and even before this – last fall – people were starting to see populations build in buckthorn.”

Dow has submitted a registration package to EPA for a combination insecticide that contains two proven active ingredients that are effective on soybean aphids as well as many other pests. The company hopes for approval by late summer, “to tap into some of these traditional row crop markets where many late season pests commonly occur,” says King.

Mike Jirak, seed treatment crop manager at Syngenta, points out that entomologists are warning that fields are set up not only for high populations of aphids, but bean leaf beetles as well. He notes that Syngenta’s Cruiser seed treatment is an established product here, but in a development late last year, research was able to explain the improved “plant health” demonstrated by the treatment in soybeans as well as many other crops. The “Thiamethoxam Vigor Effect” increases the production of plant-specific proteins, providing stronger stress (water deficiency, heat shock, pests, and elevated salt levels) defense capabilities.

Resistance Concerns

Several products have been effective against the aphids, but “given the history of other aphid species developing resistance to insecticides, there is the concern that growers may be at risk of insecticide failures in the future,” say Matt O’Neal and Kevin Johnson, Extension entomologists at Iowa State University.

Coby Long, senior insecticide brand manager with Syngenta - and maker of aphid insecticide Warrior – sees good rotation as part of good insecticide resistance management. In fact within Syngenta itself, he says, “probably our number one priority is managing products to keep them as tools for growers. We’re looking at putting together portfolio recommendations of mixing alternate modes of action for giving broader spectrum control.”

Tide Of Treatments

Talk of pest control isn’t complete without a look at the booming seed treatment segment. Mark Jirak, seed treatment crop manager at Syngenta, estimates that 75% of corn seed will be treated for 2007, up from 60% in 2006. In soybeans, 38% will be treated with a fungicide or fungicide/insecticide combination, up from 34% in 2006.

What’s A Retailer To Do

Think out of the box. “Be open to new methods, new routes for choosing insecticides, not only from the ‘quick kill’ factor, but from a resistance management strategy and safety profile,” says Richard Warriner, insecticide product manager with BASF. “These newer chemistries may be a bit slower, but the nice part is they’re much more friendly to the environment, beneficials, and worker safety.” BASF anticipates registration of its new worm and beetle insecticide Alverde for vegetables and potatoes during 2007. The company also debuts their pyrethroid Respect this year, through a licensing agreement with FMC.

Yemel Ortega, product manager at FMC Corp. advises dealers to recommend options that will preserve “excellent” chemistry that’s been on the market for a while – “but open some space for the new compounds because that’s going to add value for growers and work in favor of sustainable crop production. I think we’re gaining momentum in integrated pest management. It takes time, but I think the crop protection industry is in better shape to contribute to managing resistance issues.”

Tap Extension. Be in touch with the local university extension people, consultants, or PCAs, depending on your part of the country, says Amit Gupta, business manager for U.S. insecticides and fungicides with DuPont. “Look for the right information which is actionable with recommended, tried and tested products.” (He is also excited about new active ingredient that DuPont has in the final stages of development, called rynaxypyr. It provides long-lasting, broad-spectrum control of chewing insects in many field and specialty crops. Now working with regulatory agencies, DuPont hopes to see registration in 1 to 1 ½ years.)

Be on the lookout. Even in late summer after a long, tiring season, we must get out and scout, says Dow’s King. Favorable environmental conditions can allow insect pests to reach economic thresholds, and if untreated they’ll cost growers yield. He notes that many product solutions are available to address newer insect problems and protect yield – solutions that also provide retailers a new means of generating revenue.

Syngenta’s Long says “those scouting reports and using local thresholds will be critical to make sure we’ve got the timing right, and we’re providing the best control we can.”

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