Losing crop protection tools challenges growers
We must seek alternative solutions when proven products can no longer be used
When there’s an equipment breakdown, farmers typically reach for their tool set to get their machine up and running again. A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter wanted to ride her battery-powered John Deere Gator Power Wheels. I unplugged the power cord from the wall receptacle and clipped the battery terminals together. Before we could head down the driveway, though, I needed to insert the screw that held the front bumper and battery in place. I generally leave my red-handled #2 Phillips screwdriver next to the toy, but this time it was missing and couldn’t be found.
The bottom line was that I didn’t have the necessary tool to complete the task and move forward. I had two options: find a different tool (a pocketknife) that could be used to achieve a similar outcome or leave the toy in the garage. Any parents reading this will understand that leaving the toy in the garage was not an option that day.
When it comes to crop protection tools—fungicides, herbicides and insecticides—we often have options to manage a given pest. Today’s tools are vastly more advanced than earlier civilizations that used sulfur products to control insects and mites. Salt was commonly used by Roman soldiers to prevent their enemies from growing crops and feeding their population. Pesticidal options over the last century have evolved from industry byproducts to active ingredients that require lower use rates, have less environmental impact, and are more specific to damaging pests.
Researchers continue to discover crop protection products, with the spotlight in recent years on fungicides. This product category has experienced more growth in active ingredient discovery than herbicides and insecticides. On the contrary, our industry continues to be squeezed on older but effective active ingredients that control some of our most troublesome pests.
One such example is chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that had several trade names such as Govern, Hatchet or Lorsban. In early 2022, the EPA revoked the use of chlorpyrifos on all food, feed and forage crops. For many producers, it was the go-to product for managing insects in corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Alfalfa has fewer labeled insecticide options when compared to crops such as corn and soybean with larger market opportunities.
Managing alfalfa aphids and alfalfa weevils will be challenging going forward due to fewer effective alternative insecticides. Additional petitions to remove other organophosphate pesticides, including acephate and malathion, have been proposed.
Atrazine is another herbicide that has been in the spotlight recently. It’s not only crucial for weed control in corn and grain sorghum but also for making other herbicide products, like Explorer, work more effectively.
A more intensive, integrated approach may be necessary in the short-term to manage certain pests that were perhaps easier to control with formerly available chemistries. In the case of my daughter’s Gator, a pocketknife was required to get me by until I could locate the lost tool or purchase a new #2 Phillips screwdriver. The time it took me to find an alternative solution was much shorter than the time it takes to get new tools registered and approved to manage weeds, diseases and insects. It takes years to get a product from lab to farm while also going through the federal and state registration processes.
I believe our industry and patrons will continue to evolve and adapt as crop protection tools come and go. The exciting part to me is there are many creative, intelligent minds working in product discovery with the passion to provide solutions.
Team MFA is no different. The wealth of knowledge and experience of our team members is immense and provides a contemporary approach to providing whole-farm solutions to our customers, just as we have for more than 100 years.
MFA Director of agronomy
Read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer
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