Crop prices coupled with demand and a growing population requires growers to examine how they can maximize the yield and quality of each acre. Often that requires additional inputs. Until a few years ago, the crop protection category dominated these inputs, absorbing nearly half of all costs paid by growers. But in recent years, other crop inputs, such as fertilizers, have been gaining ground in the production aides market.
The relative decline in overall crop protection spending hasn’t equally affected each segment of the arena. Whereas spending on herbicides — no doubt due to weed resistance concerns — and insecticides has dropped, the fungicide market share has been steadily increasing since the early 2000s.
“Commodity prices have put more focus on maximizing yield,” says Rex Wichert, fungicide brand manager at Syngenta. “As more producers participate in fungicide trials on their farms, they not only see the yield benefits, but they also see things like improved plant responses to stressful conditions and improved harvestability.”
Research published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign confirms foliar fungicides were sprayed on 10 to 14 million acres of corn in the Midwest in both 2007 and 2008, when commodity prices peaked. This was followed by a slight decline in usage in 2009.
“The drop in 2009 can be seen as a turning point for fungicide use,” Wichert said. “As some growers lapsed in use, they realized how critical it can be to apply a fungicide to their fields. They saw a reduction in yield that year from not using products such as Quadris and Quilt fungicides.”
The increase in foliar fungicide use cannot solely be attributed to a direct decrease in either herbicide or insecticide applications. Rather, it is in large part due to heavy research and promotion of the physiological benefits that are associated with foliar fungicides.
Fungicides were at first considered a type of last resort when diseases appeared in fields, as the first foliar fungicides to hit the market only contained curative disease control capabilities. Since that time, strobilurin fungicides have exploded onto the crop protection scene, and they have helped introduce product solutions that now offer both curative and preventive control options. Growing awareness of the benefits of preventive fungicide use has producers associating a healthier plant with a higher yield.
And a healthier plant doesn’t only mean a crop with reduced disease pressure. In Syngenta trials comparing corn treated with Quilt brand fungicides to untreated plots, the untreated corn had 25% lodging compared to only 3% in the Quilt-treated corn. The percentage of lodging had a direct effect on harvesting speeds, enabling a 1.7 mph average increase in combine speed, offering the grower a savings of about $10 per acre. So in addition to enhanced yields, growers are also recognizing benefits from reduced lodging in terms of improved harvest efficiency and a reduction in volunteer corn in following years. Volunteer corn can be a major weed in soybean fields, causing yield loss of up to 56 percent.
“The trend for higher fungicide usage speaks for itself, in that producers are seeing the benefits of incorporating fungicide products into their crop management systems,” Wichert said.