Astute buyers profit

Whether you're using GM seed or not, match weeds to deals to save yield.

If you fear herbicide labels, weed biology, sprayer precision and the board game Monopoly, then pay the piper (which may be the dealer or applicator) and book less crop storage space.

Fearing none of these, you've earned the right to pass go, handle any color herbicide jug and collect far more than a $200 savings in herbicide input costs.

Finding the balance. The biggest news in Midwest corn protection centered around a company not accustomed to being in the herbicide spotlight. Growers may not have known much about the company Rhone-Poulenc (R-P), at least not on a personal level, until last spring. While R-P's new low-dose chemistry called Balance achieved the largest sales launch in herbicide history, used on more than three million acres, its sales and tech reps were busy building an unplanned direct rapport with growers who farmed 14% of this ground. Some of the corn was evidently afraid of Balance because it turned white.

Jokes aside, R-P took these bleaching reports seriously when they started coming in from Texas last spring, followed by more reports from Midwest states. During a recent corn technology conference that R-P held for ag journalists, company officials openly discussed the risks and benefits of the new product.

"Regarding weed control, Balance performed very well in 1999," says Rob Schrick, R-P's product lead for Balance. "It achieved good to excellent control ratings from customers on 95% of the applied acres which included successful one-pass control with tankmixes, burndown control of labeled weeds and an ability to recharge following a rain to control small emerging weeds. But the crop response incidences greatly exceeded our expectations.

"Fortunately, on 76% of the acres where Balance showed an initial bleaching effect, it was just a flash, and the corn metabolized the herbicide and grew out of it," Schrick says. "But the perception of the problem was much larger than reality due to the visual effects, along with word of mouth that spread rapidly."

Precision management. After a summer of gathering data and analyzing the problem acres, R-P determined four causes of the adverse crop response. As judged by its field reps, 41% of the acres were affected by rates or variable soils; 29% by mixing, dispersion or application; 22% by extraordinary weather; and 8% by agronomic practices.

University agronomists also were surprised. "Corn has a good ability to break down Balance more than the weeds, but the environment can play a big role in this," says Dr. Mike Owen, Iowa State University extension weed scientist. "Many of these newer herbicides have a close margin of crop selectivity, so management of rates, application and the influence that the environment has on herbicide activity is critical.

"A major contributing factor leading to crop response was an early unfavorable environment: cool, wet and cloudy conditions not conducive to good corn development," Owen says. "Other factors included coarse-textured soils in areas of fields with low organic matter, sprayer overlap, tankmixing challenges, high soil pH, improper planting depth or hybrid sensitivity."

Despite the complaints, more than 50% of those growers who saw losses due to crop response will probably use Balance next year for its weed control performance, according to a survey by R-P. "We're not taking a step back in 2000 with Balance," Schrick says with confidence. "We're adding more precision to the label and asking growers to manage it as a precision tool."

Match rate to soil. "Our strategy for 2000 is to maintain balance between crop safety and weed control with our new proposed label," says Dr. Mark Wrucke, R-P's technical service rep, Mason City, IA. "First, to match the right rate with the rightsoil, we went from two to three soil texture definitions and split each texture by organic matter categories, then assigned a rate from 1 to 3 oz./acre to each category. And instead of early preplant application capped at 14 days before planting, growers can now apply Balance up to 21 days ahead of seeding," he says.

The proposed label also outlines specific mixing and agitation guidelines, along with proper recommended agronomic practices like precise planting depth, furrow coverage and no applications on soils with organic matter less than 1_1/2% or on pH greater than 7.5. And because the company saw varying crop responses with different hybrids, it recommends asking your seed supplier about its sensitive hybrids.

"Perhaps we tried to fit Balance on too many acres," Wrucke says. "It won't fit every acre as a one-pass program, so we are positioning it to go on in a variety of ways, such as a sequential application on variable soil fields. We've also reduced the rate of Balance somewhat to hopefully deliver the perfect balance of weed control without crop response," he adds.

Although R-P admits that Balance was tried on too many acres, some growers in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania want Balance on more acres. These three states, along with Wisconsin, did not receive an EPA label to use Balance in 1999. Jim Gray, R-P's state environmental affairs manager, says the company has been busy working with these states and conducting the right research to provide the data EPA needs to consider granting a use-label for Balance. "We have compiled information and data that address all environmental impact questions posed by the EPA, and we believe that farmers in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania have a better-than-average chance to receive a Balance use-label for 2000," Gray says. "Wisconsin growers may be in for a longer wait due to a requested three-year groundwater study."

R-P's strategy to further provide a greater margin of crop tolerance with Balance beyond these proposed label strategies became apparent with a deal it just cut with Zeneca. The companies will co-promote Balance tankmixed with all commercially available "safened" acetanilide corn herbicides like Zeneca's Surpass, TopNotch, FulTime and DoublePlay herbicides in 2000.

Not epic proportions. Another company that co-marketed Balance last year to a much smaller degree was Bayer. Its Epic herbicide is a premix of the active ingredients found in Axiom (without the metribuzin) and Balance. "Our late-spring label reduced the use of Epic, plus we didn't launch the product so we didn't have wide-scale use," says Inci Dannenberg, product marketing manager for Bayer. "But we have worked with R-P and learned from its broad use and are modifying the label to be fairly consistent with R-P's Balance guidelines to launch Epic into certain areas in 2000."

Bayer plans to push Epic into areas of best fit, such as the eastern Corn Belt and east Nebraska to deliver the best weed control with a reduced risk of crop response. Soil texture, organic matter and pH are key to managing the proper use rates of Epic, which range from 6 to 17 oz./acre, Dannenberg adds.

"This herbicide combo works well together to deliver excellent broad spectrum grass and broadleaf weed control due to the residual of Axiom and the recharge with Balance," she says. "It's the closest to a one-pass weed control option that growers have and is especially good on grasses and triazine-resistant weeds, but sometimes needs a little atrazine for cocklebur and morningglory control."

Price for Epic will remain unchanged for 2000, so expect a bill around $20 to $25/acre, depending on rate.

On-time delivery. Monsanto's latest offering for 2000 isn't a new herbicide, but rather a new delivery vehicle. Harness Xtra, the popular premix of Harness and atrazine, will now have a companion product Degree Xtra because it features a unique patented encapsulation technology that releases increasing amounts of acetochlor as soil temperatures rise above 50 degrees. The atrazine in the product is not encapsulated andis released immediately for contact and residual weed control.

"The new encapsulated technique is different from our MicroTech formulation or Zeneca's TopNotch encapsulated herbicide," says Rick Cole, Monsanto's technical product manager for corn. "Rather than the shell being activated by water to open up and release the product, the active ingredient now diffuses through the capsule once the soil warms above 50 degrees. And the safener diffuses quicker to inoculate the corn plants."

The two benefits, says Cole, are length of control and crop safety. Harness, which suffered crop safety problems, wasn't as safe as Lasso and Dual on corn. But Monsanto's studies with new Degree Xtra and its companion product Degree show them to be the safest products now. Degree contains encapsulated acetochlor without atrazine. Due to such a safety profile, they are registered for use on production seed corn and popcorn, as well as field and silage corn.

The company claims this encapsulation will deliver residual weed control that lasts longer than the control from competitive products such as Bicep II Magnum, FulTime, Leadoff and Guardsman. "For example, it will take 30 to 40 days for half the acetochlor to come out at 60 to 70 degree soil temperature, compared to TopNotch or FulTime encapsulation, which can release half the amount in 24 hrs. after application," Cole says. "In tests on barnyardgrass control, Degree held up for 50 days compared to TopNotch, Dual II Magnum and Harness that lasted only 28 days."

Monsanto says Degree and Degree Xtra can be applied 28 days before planting, either preemergence or preplant, at a rate of 3 qts./acre. The company did not announce price by press time but says that it will price Degree competitively on the market.

BASF, the only other company launching a new corn product for 2000, will phase out its Celebrity co-packed post-applied product in favor of formulating an additional ingredient and calling the new three-way premix Celebrity Plus, targeted at the northern Corn Belt. "This product contains the active ingredients found in Distinct and Accent to give growers the convenience of one product at one rate (4.7 oz./acre) with excellent crop safety. It will control most grass and broadleaf weeds in one pass postemerge," says Dan McGuire, BASF's marketing manager of corn post products.

McGuire says application timing for Celebrity Plus is in the mid-post range on 2- to 6-in. weeds when corn is 4 to 24 in. It effectively controls tough weeds such as foxtail, woolly cupgrass, morningglory, velvetleaf, cocklebur, lambsquarter and black nightshade, including ALS- and triazine-resistant broadleaf weeds such as resistant waterhemp.

Herbicide-resistant corn. This category, while currently receiving more national and global attention than Minnesota's governor, continues to build toward the future with new products. Monsanto, busy licensing its glyphosate to competitors (partners), also launches new ReadyMaster ATZ for Roundup Ready (RR) corn for 2000. It contains the active ingredient in Roundup Ultra plus atrazine.

"We found that Roundup Ready corn suffered the same fate as Roundup Ready soybeans initially, planted on the toughest acres, plus growers concluded that the program cost too much," says Monsanto's Cole. "Now, this premix addresses these tougher weed control concerns, as well as being more economical in Roundup Ready corn because it is a one-pass solution." The company sees ReadyMaster ATZ fitting on acres where burndown of tough weeds and grasses is the biggest issue. Depending on weed pressure and environmental conditions, it may provide season-long control in a single pass.

Cole says that, at a common use rate of 2 qts./acre, ReadyMaster ATZ contains 1 lb. atrazine and the same level of active ingredient you get in a 32 oz./acre Roundup Ultra application. Price will be in the $12 to $15/acre ballpark, plus the tech fee for the seed, keeping total cost below $20/acre.

The other glyphosate. To reduce offshore generic Roundup competition and keep more of the market revenue after its patent expires in October 2000, Monsanto now has licenses or agreements with seven companies to sell glyphosate either in premixes or as a private-branded product. For application to RR corn, only Cheminova's Glyfos (straight glyphosate) and Glyfos X-tra (glyphosate with adjuvants) will be available for 2000, at a price 10 to 15% below Monsanto's Roundup price. And for RR soybean growers, several more players will offer glyphosate in one form or another (more on this in our February issue).

And what about RR corn hybrid availability? According to Monsanto, Dekalb will exit the RR corn market for 2000 because it lost a patent infringement case to R-P. However, due to an arrangement with R-P, Monsanto's Asgrow and other seed partners will continue to sell RR hybrids (which include part of R-P's patented material) for next year. Monsanto expects to bioengineer its own RR corn without the R-P technology in time for the 2001 growing season.

GM or non-GM hybrids. In the face of the activist-heated genetically modified (GM) crop issue, American Cyanamid and its Clearfield corn seed partners appear fortunate to be able to offer farmers a choice of GM or non-GM hybrids in 2000.

"We're certainly excited about the advances our seed partners are making under our technology umbrella called Clearfield [formerly IMI corn]," says Dr. Mark Dahmer, Cyanamid's technical manager for Clearfield. "We're in position for substantial growth because our seed partners such as Pioneer, Mycogen and Garst are introducing more elite, high-yielding hybrids for 2000. And this base technology does not contain a GM trait, unless the hybrid is stacked with a GM trait. We are proponents of GM seed and consider it outstanding technology. The best thing about Clearfield is that it offers grower a choice," he says.

30% off. But even better news for farmers is the new price for Lightning herbicide. "For 2000 we're dropping the price of Lightning by approximately 30% to make the Clearfield program an option on more than just a farmer's toughest weed control acres," Dahmer says.