Changing Tides

U.S. crop protection sales have shrunk by some $2.5 billion over the past several years — down from a high of $9 billion in the late ’90s. “And there’s no doubt we will see further reductions” in the next five years, says Stan Howell, vice president North America, Dow AgroSciences. But maybe that downturn will be stalled a bit this year, with the projected crop acreage gains being heralded for 2007.

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Of Corn And Pests

In light of better commodity prices, growers are going to have to look at their hybrid selection and crop protection choices potentially differently than they have in the past, says Pat Steiner, corn herbicide product manager, Syngenta. “For instance, if they’re looking at corn, I think yield is a much more important aspect than it’s ever been in the past. Typically, it’s been constrained much more by the cost side of things than I think it will be this year.”

Indeed, in his travels, Steiner has found growers facing complex business decisions for the 2007 season that they’ve never faced before — in an uncertain environment. “It becomes a corn and bean discussion, and changing that rotation is not necessarily a simple thing,” he says. For instance, Steiner heard Ohio and Michigan growers describing rootworm at serious levels in ’06. “So as they change their corn/bean rotation, they’ll even have to deal with things like what to do about insect control if they go to corn on corn.” Then too, cutworm hit damaging highs, thanks to milder weather, early flight, and early-season green material just ready for egg-laying.

Needs Against Weeds

If last season was any indicator, lots of weed seed is waiting to emerge in fields. As Bryan Young, weed specialist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, put it while traveling the countryside this past fall, “Yikes! The level of weed control apparently has taken a huge dive compared with recent years.” He was quick to affirm that a majority of fields were in pretty good shape, but the picture attests to the fact that marestail, waterhemp, and giant ragweed — the Midwest’s most troubling weeds — continue to gain ground, thanks in part to glyphosate resistance.

Dr. Ford Baldwin, veteran Arkansas weed scientist, made a rather startling comment in the Delta Farm Press this summer, warning, “Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth will make Asian soybean rust seem insignificant.”

Dealers will need to help growers determine application timing (preplant, preemerge, or postemerge), herbicide use rates, tillage systems, and possibly, planting dates. Young’s suggestion: “Implement weed control earlier in the season instead of betting the bank that glyphosate will always provide 100% control.”

Soybean Rust Quiet To The North

While areas of the South were hard-hit by rust in 2006, fields to the north did not see the disease until late in the season, and Midwestern Extension specialists were not overly concerned about yield loss. Dr. Wayne Pedersen, emeritus plant pathologist with the University of Illinois, predicted rust may be a problem in his state in ’07 if there’s a mild winter in the southern U.S. and a wet spring in Illinois.

He says the most effective means of controlling diseases in general is preventive medicine, as once a plant is infected, “the battle may be lost.” Retailers will need to decide how much to push this strategy. They may already have stocks of fungicides on hand that were not used for the 2006 season.

Product Development

As soybean rust has gained the spotlight the past two years, chemical companies have risen to the call, scrambling to market helpful controls. “Some companies have really re-channeled their R&D dollars towards more fungicide and insecticide discovery versus herbicide,” says Aaron Locker, product manager with FMC.

To meet needs-of-the-moment, firms are trying to find ways to hasten the new product development process. “Discovery is extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming, and chemical companies are under tremendous pressure to just streamline the whole process,” says Locker. FMC has created a new initiative called Innova Solutions that will speak to the issue, with a goal of getting products to market in 2 to 4 years, compared to the more traditional 10 to 15 years.

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