Taking Seed Treatments to the Next Level

Justin Clark, BASF

Justin Clark, BASF

Ask Justin Clark, technical marketing specialist at BASF, where the most exciting work is happening in the crop protection business, and it’s an easy answer: seed treatments.

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As someone at the forefront of the company’s $1.02 billion acquisition of Becker Underwood, Clark expects a wave of developments coming soon in the segment, most notably in biologicals.

“You are going to see some really innovative things that you haven’t seen from basic manufacturers, with biological products in what they can do in combination with chemical AIs,” he says. “As we start to scratch the surface about what the different components on the seed can do for us, it’s important to take a holistic, on-seed approach, and look at benefits you are gaining from each individual component, because there are so many things going on with seed these days.”

Clark was flying off to Montana to meet with growers on the company’s latest product, Obvius, a triple mode-of-action seed treatment for the pulse market that is BASF’s first downstream launch containing its novel Xemium fungicide. Obvius offers longer-term residual disease control of Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Fusarium, and also Ascochyta and anthracnose.

Jumpstarted by last year’s release of in-furrow fungicide Xanthion – the first fungicide on the market to combine a chemical fungicide and a biofungicide – BASF will unveil more bio-chemical-combo seed treatments and in-furrow approaches within the next year to address key early season seedling diseases, Clark says.

Next season, he says, inoculants will be vital for soybean growers to apply following the puddled sides of standing water seen especially in Indiana and Illinois over the spring. “It’s very important for growers to be thinking about using an inoculant on their soybeans to reestablish that population of rhizobia, because oftentimes those beans died in low pockets where water was standing. They died because the soil went anaerobic – no oxygen went into the soil.”

Commodity Price Effect
Few would argue that lower commodity prices are not causing growers to take a very hard look at their seed treatment decisions. Palle Pedersen, head of Syngenta Seedcare product marketing, says Syngenta is seeing the impact more in minor or lower-value crops such as wheat.

“We have crops where we are consistently getting higher yields with seed treatment; in those crops farmers are not questioning, but in crops where you’re not getting it and you have to replant you may take the risk. It’s similar to not applying fertilizer to try to save costs.

“For corn, soy, and cotton, the value seed treatment brings is quite significant. You’re not going to see a big change,” he says.

Kevin Adam, SeedGrowth strategic business lead at Bayer CropScience, says, “When times are tight, growers say, ‘Do I really go for Poncho/VOTiVO (corn seed treatment) protection or a lower-level protection?’ But with a five-bushel (yield advantage with Poncho/VOTiVO), even at today’s commodity prices, that’s over 20 dollars an acre gross return. That is a great return on their investment since the cost is nowhere near that. There is a lot of consistency that that product brings to the field.”

Adam says its ILeVO soybean seed treatment for sudden death syndrome and nematodes – just launched this season – has generated “a huge range of positive yield results” for growers, many of whom have been tweeting about those results. Up next in seed treatments for Bayer, Adam says it will look to launch products in 2018 centered around biologicals to enhance soil conditions.

Architectural rendering of the planned structure; credit: Syngenta

Architectural rendering of the planned structure; credit: Syngenta

New Investments
Certainly for manufacturers, commodity prices have far from deterred new investments.

In August, Syngenta broke ground on a $20 million expansion of its Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minnesota. The facility, one of 11 worldwide, is set to support R&D and generate discovery of new formulations when it is completed next fall. It will also house a support center which customers can visit and be trained on how to use products, calibrate treaters according to the humidity in the environment, and be more comfortable using the technology in general.

“You can buy the best product, but if you don’t know how to use it you don’t get true value out of it,” Pedersen says.
One of those treatments is Syngenta’s Vibrance, which was initially approved in 2012 for cereals, soybeans, and canola, and has since added registrations for more than 30 crops including sugarbeets to protect against all Rhizoctonia groups beginning this fall for 2016 planting.

Valent BioSciences (VBC) also has a fungicide seed treatment to combat Rhizoctonia and Fusarium currently in development, which Thad Haes, Seed Protection market manager, calls “absolutely exceptional” and says offers “better control than any other product in the industry right now.”

VBC’s latest release – Intego Suite soybeans, which it upgraded to an all-in-one treatment this season – has gone much larger in scale and scope as awareness has grown, Haes says. The seed treatment, with its dual mode of action (ethaboxam + metalaxyl), fights a wider spectrum of Pythium and Phytophthora species than metalaxyl alone. Over the last 11 years, Phytophthora is estimated to have cost growers 500 million bushels in yield.

Joint university and private research has shown a bushel-and-a-half increase with Intego Suite over CruiserMaxx and Acceleron, but Haes said many growers have told him it is more than that.

On the hit of low commodity prices, Haes says many are now simply figuring seed treatments into their seed costs. “A lot of growers see the value that is there; they want to set themselves up for success.” Plus,
they don’t need to touch it. It’s just a matter of phoning in their seed treatment to their local seed treater or retailer/distributor.

More so, he is seeing an insatiable appetite for new products. “I think every call I get now, it’s, ‘What else do you got coming?’ We have a very full pipeline, and looking at 2017 to 2018, we will have more products. We see these as step changes to what the products currently do.”

Crunching the Numbers
To capture that demand for new technologies that push higher yields as growers crunch numbers, one of Verdesian Life Sciences’ latest launches is its Tuxedo seed treatment, which helps carry micronutrients to the plant. Designed for cereals and soybeans as separate products, more roll-outs are in the works.

The majority of U.S. wheat acres are zinc-deficient, and zinc is expensive to broadcast and apply and actually make a difference, says Jim Pullens, marketing manager for Verdesian Seed Treatments and Inoculants. “This product can address that issue in a very cost-effective way. Growers are looking for solutions for micronutrients but also trying to save money. Tuxedo cereals supply as much zinc at the seed as applying almost 50 pounds of zinc sulfate broadcast and mixed to that same level.”

What makes the product effective is that it is close to the roots, where it is not tied up by organic matter or to the binding characteristics of the soil, Pullens says, and is 100-percent available as the plant needs it.

Verdesian, which is further exploring nutrient-efficiency materials coming out of places like Los Alamos National Laboratories, also recently launched Take Off as a seed treatment in row crops. “It’s the only technology in the marketplace in any form that addresses how efficient a plant is in processing nutrients,” specifically nitrogen, Pullens says, adding, “In wheat, we’ve been seeing the product pay the grower back 10 to 12 times more than the product costs,” even with commodity prices at their current level.

Dr. Jeremy Williams, Monsanto

Dr. Jeremy Williams, Monsanto

At Monsanto, nematode control in corn, cotton and soy is the driving force behind a seed treatment in development, internally dubbed MON102100, which emerged from its 2011 acquisition of Divergence Inc. Jeremy Williams, one of Divergence’s founders and now Monsanto’s disease control platform lead in chemistry technology, says the nematicide went to EPA for review last December and should be commercialized within the next five years.

“We expect it to be launched with germplasm resistance, because we think ultimately it gives you a more robust, durable system,” he says.

Monsanto has also partnered with Nimbus Discovery in Boston on a synthetic fungicide with a completely new mode of action for which there will be a seed treatment component, but it won’t be ready for launch for about another eight years.

“As you watch the Monsanto pipeline evolve, you’re going to see a real focus on new seed treatments that rely both on synthetic chemistry as well as biologicals,” Williams says. “You’re going to see a lot more of a focus in our research efforts on the chemistry space – perhaps more so than you’ve seen from Monsanto in the last decade or so.”

Biologicals are also figuring heavily in DuPont’s approach, and the company expects continued growth in insecticide and nematicide seed treatments for its product launches in the corn, soy, and canola markets.

On the market for 2015 planting, DuPont’s Lumivia seed treatment has a new mode of action that protects against early-season corn pests such as wireworms, white grubs, black cutworms, seed corn maggot, and fall armyworms.

As insects ingest the seeds, the active ingredient, chlorantraniliprole, an insecticide in the anthranilic diamides class, impacts their muscle fibers, causing the insect to stop feeding almost immediately.

“The activity (of Lumivia) for foliar lep pest is completely unique and opens up opportunity for market exploration,” says Mike Messman, director, DuPont Seed Treatment Enterprise, adding, “The future is bright for seed treatments. This enables our industry to explore science in a new way, by innovating technologies like the anthranilic diamide family, but also exploration in fungicide and biological elements as part of the treatments.”