9 steps to better crop protection products
Grower Mike Amiotte, left, Interior, S.D., works with agronomist Ryon Berry to choose adjuvants that help herbicides perform well in cool, wet spring conditions.
The world of weed control unloads new challenges every season. More herbicide-tolerant and -resistant species mean constant adjustments to herbicide selection, application rates, control techniques and adjuvant choices.
For Brian Kuehl and his agronomy product development team at CHS, finding the best way to tackle those adjustments is a management challenge of its own.
Some years, the list of possible product solutions seems very long. To whittle the list of options to a manageable number and help prioritize the greatest crop protection needs for the coming years, the team turns to a group of hands-on experts: cooperative agronomists.
“Every December, we hold a product discovery meeting with agronomists from around the country to discuss major crop protection product issues,” says Kuehl. “We ask them which adjuvants are working well, which aren’t and what’s missing in the current product lineups. And we have them vote on which products they’d most like to see. Then our development team focuses on the top five.”
After identifying which adjuvant active ingredients have historically been most effective with certain herbicides and helpful for resolving specific spray application issues, Kuehl and the team begin developing new formulations.
That’s the process they’ve been using for years, and it produced the latest addition to the CHS line of adjuvants: CHS Level Best™ Pro. Available for the 2022 season, Level Best Pro is formulated to increase uptake, translocation and efficacy of herbicides, Kuehl says. “Level Best Pro offers a low use rate, provides excellent handling characteristics and improves weed control of many herbicides, including glyphosate and glufosinate. Those were all things agronomists told us they really wanted to see.”
9 steps to launch
- Agronomist survey identifies needs
- Top needs named
- Compounds selected for field trials
- Field data reviewed/top compound chosen
- Brand name and product positioning created
- State registrations submitted
- Marketing plan developed
- Production and packaging determined
- New product launched
Testing crop protection products to use with glyphosate
The original Level Best formula, introduced in 2018, was developed to help herbicides be more effective on tough weeds with herbicide tolerance or resistance issues, explains Kuehl.
“Growers needed to use higher herbicide rates to control weeds, so originally we focused on identifying which adjuvant active ingredients were most effective, especially with glyphosate. The result was Level Best, a nonionic surfactant, water conditioner and deposition aid that significantly improves spray coverage, penetration and adhesion,” he says.
The adjuvant has impressed growers in the central South Dakota trade area of CHS River Plains, says agronomist Ryon Berry. “They now ask for Level Best by name for use with glyphosate. Level Best has consistently improved the effectiveness of glyphosate on weeds, including kochia, that have been showing some herbicide resistance.”
Level Best also seems to improve herbicide activity in less-than-ideal spraying conditions, says Interior, S.D., farmer Mike Amiotte. “Spring here can be cool and windy. Using Level Best with glyphosate has definitely improved our burndown weed control. With the current high cost of glyphosate, I wouldn’t spray without Level Best.”
Broader uses with glufosinate
“We were also looking for an active ingredient that worked with the herbicide glufosinate,” Kuehl says. “An ‘aha moment’ came to us one year later, when we identified an active ingredient that worked with both glyphosate and glufosinate. That’s when we started to work on formulas with different active ingredient ratios for what would become Level Best Pro.”
Six formulations were tested during the 2019 growing season in a large number of field trials conducted by CHS and third-party researchers at universities and private companies around the country, under a wide variety of growing conditions.
“We had minimum parameters for many adjuvant characteristics and were specifically looking to increase leaf cuticle penetration and reduce surface tension to improve herbicide efficacy on tough weeds, including Palmer amaranth, common ragweed and common lambsquarters,” says Kuehl. “From all that data, we chose the formula that performed the best across most conditions and had no major weaknesses.”
That formula went through two years of widespread field trials in 2020 and 2021 across the Upper Midwest. CHS River Plains, with 15 locations in central South Dakota, was one cooperative that hosted trials. Kochia, marestail and lambsquarters are big weed challenges in the cooperative’s trade area, says agronomist Connor Seaman, who works around Selby, S.D. “Preemergence herbicide applications don’t always work here due to our limited rainfall. We’ve also seen a lot of glyphosate resistance develop in those key weed species, especially kochia.
“Our initial co-op trials with the original Level Best formulation showed it consistently helped herbicides work faster, so weeds died several days sooner,” compared with other herbicide mixes containing other adjuvants he recalls. “In last year’s trials, Level Best Pro performed equally well in the field, but also had better handling characteristics.”
The growing portfolio of proprietary crop protection products offered by CHS contains more than adjuvants. The offering includes seed treatments, additives and soil amendments formulated to help make the most of a grower’s investment in seed and crop protection products.
Surfactants; penetrants; deposition aids; wetting, drift control and antifoaming agents; spreaders; water conditioners; and crop oil concentrates
Fungicides, insecticides and micronutrients
Chelates and chelated solutions and additives that make key nutrients and micronutrients more available to the plant
Naturally derived plant growth regulators and enzymes
Growers are probably most familiar with spray adjuvants and seed treatments, says Ryan Hageman, CHS technical specialist and business development manager for the western United States, but the area with the most growth potential is biologicals. “We had more than 20 biological products on our list for field-test consideration last year. After looking at crop use, practicality and potential value of each, we rated them and put five in field trials this year.”
Data-driven weed control
Hundreds of research trials yield millions of data points to be analyzed and combed through each fall.
“We always compare a new experimental product to those in our current lineup,” says Ryan Hageman, CHS technical specialist and business development manager. “Did it outperform current products? Did it do well across multiple geographies? Does it have a unique fit? If the answers are ‘yes,’ that formula will probably go through another year of field trials. Fully 90% of crop protection products go through two to three years of field trials before graduating to cooperative test plots.”
After three or four years of field tests, one product often stands out, says Kuehl, “although sometimes it takes a fifth year of data before we feel confident enough to begin commercialization.”
Name, label and package
Before a new product can be registered and offered for sale, it needs a name.
“Everyone can offer suggestions, but the final decision falls to the marketing staff and product manager,” says Kuehl. “Writing the label comes next, complete with all instructions for use, which can take weeks or months, depending on the product.”
The state registration process is often lengthy, with requirements varying by state. “Some states act relatively quickly and are easy to work with, while others may require label rewrites to satisfy state-specific rules and regulations, as well as interpretation of those rules and regulations,” he says. “That can add months to the process in some states.”
Meanwhile, a product management team works with chemical suppliers and formulators to determine ingredient and manufacturing costs, how and where the product will be made and how it will be packaged.
When everything finally comes together and a new adjuvant is put to work controlling weeds in farm fields, it’s often the culmination of a four- to six-year process, says Kuehl. “In the case of Level Best Pro, we were able to compact it into under three years, which is pretty amazing.”
Check out the full Spring 2022 issue of C magazine with this article and more.