Need for Fungicides High, But So Is Hesitancy to Buy

“I’ve gotten more questions and heard more chatter about generic fungicides than ever before.”  --Daren Mueller, Iowa State University

“I’ve gotten more questions and heard more chatter about generic fungicides than ever before.” –Daren Mueller, Iowa State University

For row crops, 2015 was the perfect year for disease. Awakened by the wet and cool conditions, U.S. fungicide demand hit its highest point in more than a decade, according to experts.

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Northern corn leaf blight popped up weeks early and in great abundance in some locations. Gray leaf spot nibbled away at yields, and Southern rust and common rust were very happy in the wet conditions of the Corn Belt.

White mold in soybean thrived more than ever, especially in the North-Central U.S.
“The irony was that we had a couple of fairly dry years and not a lot of need but a lot more people were spraying, and now there’s a greater need but it’s a tougher choice because of commodity prices,” Daren Mueller, Assistant Pro­fessor and Extension Plant Pathologist at Iowa State University, points out.

“A big topic will be whether it pays to spray a fungicide again in 2016 because of low commodity prices,” says Thorsten Schwindt, Product Manager, Broadacre Fungicides, with Bayer CropScience. However, the advantages of the fungicide application on both corn and soybean were so visible in 2015 that Bayer expects the market to grow slightly this year, Schwindt adds. He says he knew of at least several cases of customers who did not spray last year because of commodity prices, and “regretted they didn’t … I think they’ll spray possibly more than
last year.”

For soybeans, Dr. Nathan Kleczew­ski, Extension Plant Pathologist at the University of Delaware, contends that growers will cut back on fungicides in 2016 as long as prices are low — except in the South, where they will spray regardless due to rust pressure.

“Fungicide costs are $25 or more per acre to spray (on the East Coast). It’s maybe $15 just for the product, versus an insecticide, which might be $2 an acre. It’s definitely easy to cut,” he says. Figuring out how to profit off a fungicide is not a simple task, he adds.

“You have a lot of things to take into account: the variety you’re planting, the history of the field, how you are managing the field — no-till, conventional till — as well as rotation and weather. You have to piece all those things together to figure out your risk level. Even then it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get a significant yield increase.”

Mueller says that for corn, Fortix, which is jointly sold by Cheminova and Arysta LifeScience, worked well against Northern corn leaf blight in all of Iowa State University’s corn fungicide trials across the state. On the soybean side, Syngenta’s Omega and BASF’s Endura have delivered strong results for management of white mold, he says.

He also says growers will increasingly look to incorporate generics into their applications.

Generics, Resistance Watch
“In looking at 2016, I’ve gotten more questions and heard more chatter about generic fungicides than ever before, and so I’m curious to see how much of that will be pushed this year,” he says. Azoxystrobin’s exit from patent protection is one driving factor, in addition to people looking to save costs and get creative.

Kleczewski says that the lack of new modes of action has led companies to squeeze as much as they can out of existing chemistries. Resistance to strobilurins, particularly in frogeye leaf spot pathogens, will further spur the market for premixes. Gowan’s Affiance fungicide for corn and soybeans — a combination of tetraconazole and azoxystrobin — is one example.

Three-way mixtures are also poised to gain momentum, with Syngenta’s Trivapro (strobilurin+triazole+SDHI fungicides) at the forefront for the key row crops.

For combatting resistance to frogeye leaf spot, which has been spreading rapidly, Kleczewski says he no longer recommends a straight strobilurin product like Syngenta’s Quadris or BASF’s Headline on soybeans, but instead recommends a premix such as Quilt Xcel or Trivapro from Syngenta, BASF’s Priaxor, or tank mixing.

“You get the most bang for your buck when you’re integrating all available practices to manage diseases. That includes making sure you have a good crop rotation, making sure you’re managing residue as much as you can, and planting good, tolerant varieties for the diseases in your region. That is just as important, if not more important, than applying fungicides,” Kleczewski reminds.

Eric Tedford, Syngenta

Eric Tedford, Syngenta

Dr. Eric Tedford, Syngenta Techni­cal Lead for Fungicides, says the company is bringing eight new fungicides to the market, all registered by the end of 2015. Half of them contain its new SDHI fungicide Solatenol, including Aprovia for use on grapes and pome fruits; Aprovia Top for cucurbits and fruiting vegetables; Elatus, which combines Solatenol with azoxystrobin for peanuts and potatoes; and the aforementioned Trivapro.

Trivapro, in addition to its preventative and curative activity, also provides physiological benefits — a trend reflected in many of the new fungicides coming on the market. Tedford described a grower in northern Iowa who used the fungicide, while his neighbor did not.

A storm came in, and the neighbor harvested his corn early with 25% moisture retained, costing him $120 per acre to dry his corn down to 15%. “Our colleague who used fungicide knew the stalks weren’t compromised. Therefore he left his corn in the field to dry down to 20% before harvest. By doing that his cost to dry down his corn to 15% was only $60 per acre.”

On average, Trivapro provides a 10% to 15% per-acre yield increase over untreated corn, and 3% lodging versus 26% lodging in untreated corn. But Tedford advises against becoming “yield-myopic.” Yields are important, “and we all want great yield, but you also have to think about value.” Translation: Don’t ignore crop enhancement benefits, such as improved stalk quality.

“If you think about the use of fungicides on corn and soybeans, it has changed greatly over last 20 years, not because diseases have changed, but because people recognize the value of fungicides,” Tedford says. “Twenty years ago only high-value corn was treated, and now it’s simply part of their practice.”

Proven Technologies

Caren Schmidt, BASF

Caren Schmidt, BASF

Dr. Caren Schmidt, Technical Market­ing Manager, Fungicides at BASF, says that growers are going to put more scrutiny on their input decisions, and they will look for proven technologies and those that have been consistent on their farms.

“In a lot of cases (fungicide choice) is driven by the desire for disease control, and in a lot of cases it’s been because they’ve seen the other physiological benefits,” she says.

BASF’s fungicide portfolio is based on the molecule in its Headline brand, including Headline AMP for tassel applications, and Priaxor for pre-tassel applications. Headline AMP and Priax­or provide added physiological benefits including growth efficiency and stress tolerance.

In 2015, BASF launched Xanthion, an in-furrow application for corn, for which it expects increased acreage this year. “It’s a relatively new use pattern, and growers have started to adopt it to get the crop off to a great start,” Schmidt says.

Another trend she has noticed over the last several years is growers using starter or pop-up fertilizer, and adding fungicides, such as Headline, and more recently Xanthion as an incremental benefit. “It all goes back to the fact of getting the healthiest plant out of the ground and as uniformly as possible. Anything that can be done to ensure that will help protect yield potential.”

Priaxor is the company’s lead fungicide for soybeans, and more recently it introduced Priaxor D targeted at areas affected by frogeye leaf spot, particularly in the Mid-South which is affected by strobilurin resistance.

Dr. Dario Narváez, Adama Fungi­cide Development Technical Leader, says that one of the challenges ag is facing is that as commodity prices drop, growers often lower usage rates, opt for cheaper, ineffective products, or use a single mode of action to save money, creating opportunities for resistance to be developed. And in the worst-case scenario they opt for not applying fungicides at all suffering bigger yield losses. Under those low crop prices protecting yield becomes even more important. Growers should still use fungicides on some crops as a means of maximizing yields and lower the risk of inoculum buildup.

Since only a handful of modes of action are available to growers, Adama is focused both on developing more efficient and environmentally friendly products, as well as improving existing products with multiple modes of action so that the pathogen is targeted from different sides to reduce the risk of resistance, he says.

Narváez highlighted several Adama fungicides in demand in 2016, including Custodia, which combines tebuconazole and azoxystrobin and is used to control powdery mildew, frogeye leaf spot, rusts and Fusarium in corn, soybeans and wheat. MasterCop is a copper product for use on fruits, vegetables and tree crops, and Captan Gold controls fungal diseases in pome, stone and other fruits.

“Growers are asking for more education around fungicides, and also about diseases. We have been offering training for growers, so we can help answer their questions about the risk of disease becoming more severe with climate change, what opportunities there are for diseases to become more aggressive, weather conditions, stuff like that,” Narváez says.

Another challenge, he says, is improving fungicide application timing: Growers tend to apply them when they see the disease symptoms but by that time the crop has already been exposed to the pathogen and it may be too late, as the crop may have undergone stress with a potential negative impact
in yield.

“Sometimes when they apply fungicide to a field at risk for disease, they will feel they wasted money when they don’t see diseases. However, in that situation the yield increase will pay for the application.”