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We’ve come a long way

Weed control evolution has occurred incrementally over the years, but looking back at the sweep of history shows some very impressive gains


Some might remember the 1970s cigarette commercial featuring the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Well, as I think back to how we controlled pests in the early days of my career, no slogan could be more appropriate for our pesticide industry.

I was recently reminiscing with my brother Bill, who has been in the crop protection business in southern Ontario for over 45 years, about how things have changed during our careers. In particular, we were discussing Roundup, since we were both involved with the original launch. Fortunately, Bill is a bit of a pack-rat when it comes to pesticide information, so he had some of the original brochures and government guides.

When first launched, Roundup was a tad expensive; so expensive, in fact, that many of us in the industry didn’t see much future for it. Originally it was only labelled to control quackgrass, bindweed, milkweed, and thistles, and the use rate was about two litres per acre. Back in 1978, we sold a litre of Roundup for $33, setting the cost of quackgrass control at $66 per acre, equivalent to about $235 per acre in 2014 dollars. This pretty much relegated Roundup to spot treatment duties to control patches of quackgrass prior to planting. In fact, during farmer meetings at that time, we told growers that Roundup was too expensive to spray overall, but if you just switch the sprayer on and off over the patches, it just might be cost-effective.

Where are we today? Glyphosate is the biggest pesticide in the world, with over 120 brands registered in Canada alone, with 92 weeds on the label, with the ability to be applied before planting for any of the 800-plus crops grown in Canada, or even on top of five glyphosate-tolerant crops (canola, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, or alfalfa). Most significant though, it does all this for about $5 per acre, or for about two per cent of what it cost in 1978, when inflation is considered. Yes, we have come a long way, baby, and the only question is what will the future hold? 

While glyphosate may not always be the miracle solution it once was due to those pesky weed resistance issues, at $5 per acre I suspect it will remain the foundation of most weed control programs for a long time. Which brings me to the topic at hand: What’s new for 2014? I have selected a few of what I consider the more promising developments over the last few months and interestingly enough, four of five new herbicide solutions highlighted also involve the use of glyphosate.

Focus Herbicide Co-Pack for corn and now for soybeans, is a pre-plant or pre-emergence herbicide that employs two modes of action using Pyroxasulfone (Group 15) and Aim (Group 14), offering an attractive way to address weed resistance problems.  Focus also provides long residual control for up to 60 days and can be tank-mixed with glyphosate, to burn down just about any weed that dares to poke its head up at the time of application.

Boundary LQD Herbicide is a new all-in-one formulation which replaces Boundary co-pack and therefore eliminates the need to mix. This blend of Dual grass herbicide and a low dose of Sencor will do a great job of controlling annual grasses and nightshade well into the growing season. However, I suspect most growers will prefer the option of mixing Boundary with glyphosate to provide initial pre-emergent burndown of existing weeds with the added benefit of the residual activity delivered by Boundary LQD.

Freestyle, a co-pack containing two Group 2 residual herbicides from DuPont (Classic Grande and DuPont Imazethapyr), was just announced for Ontario and Quebec soybean growers. Freestyle will control a wide range of grass and broadleaf weeds, including glyphosate-tolerant weeds. DuPont also recommends mixing Freestyle with glyphosate for systemic and residual burndown. 

Fierce Herbicide is yet another residual herbicide option for eastern soybean growers. With two active ingredients (pyroxasulfone + flumioxazin) and two modes of action, Fierce provides about eight weeks residual control of a nice range of annual grasses and broadleaf weeds, including Group 2-, glyphosate-, and triazine-resistant biotypes. And like most new herbicides, Fierce can be tank-mixed with glyphosate for complete pre-plant or pre-emergent burndown. 

Enforcer M is technically no longer a “new” herbicide; however, it has recently received registration with some important tank mix partners, making it an attractive choice for cereal growers in 2014. Enforcer M contains three active ingredients (Fluroxypyr, Bromoxynil, and MCPA) representing two modes of action (Groups 4 and 6) so is a good option where Group 2 resistance is a threat. It can now be tank-mixed with most of the popular grassy weed herbicides including Axial 100EC, Varro, Simplicity, Everest 2.0, and Nufarm Tralkoxydim, in addition to Achieve, Puma, and Cordon and Signal.

Propulse Fungicide from Bayer is a new fungicide for dry and edible beans, offering protection against white mould (sclerotinia). Propulse contains prothioconazole (Group 3) and a new active ingredient fluopyram (Group 7), delivering both contact and systemic protection. Bean growers have relatively few options for the control of white mould, and none with two modes of action, making Propulse a brand that growers should check out.

Raxil PRO Shield is a new multi-pak cereal seed treatment that incorporates the systematic and contact disease protection of Raxil Pro (Tebuconazole + Prothioconazole + Metalaxyl), with the wireworm protection of Stress Shield (Imidacloprid). That’s a lot of technology to put between your seed and those critters in the soil that want to attack that seed. Raxil PRO Shield is available for on-farm or commercial treating. 

Fluency Agent seems like an odd name for this new technology. As most readers already know, there has been a dark cloud hanging over the use of neonicotinoid-based seed treatments due to possible links to bee deaths.

The two big players in the neonic business, Syngenta and Bayer, have taken different approaches to protect the use of neonics. It appears that Bayer may be pulling ahead, with the launch of its new “Fluency Agent,” which is now the only legal option for corn and bean growers this spring.

Fluency Agent is a polyethylene wax seed lubricant which must be used when planting seed treated with any of the neonics — clothianidin, thiamethoxam, or imidacloprid. Talc and graphite are no longer permitted as seed-flow lubricants for corn or soybean seed treated with neonics. It is believed the Fluency Agent can reduce the dust made up of lubricant and neonics, which can be released from a planter’s exhaust system.

Bayer claims Fluency Agent can reduce dust by about 65 per cent; however, those numbers need to be viewed with some caution. In an independent Ontario study, while the total dust was reduced by 67.5 per cent, that dust contained 3.7 times the concentration of neonics. Therefore the real reduction in neonics was about 28 per cent.

That’s still important, but if neonics are actually the main cause of bee deaths, it may not be enough. However, the PMRA has also issued other “best practices” to further reduce risk to bees and other pollinators.

Do you have a crop protection issue you’d like Warren to write about? Send any suggestions to [email protected]

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