David Booty, Technical Development Manager for OMEX® Agrifluids, continues last month’s insight into integrated crop and pest management.
Veterans of the crop protection industry often regard the 1970s and the 1980s as its heyday. In those days, with the availability of countless active ingredients measured in the hundreds, it seemed we had cures for everything. We could use multiple applications in endless combination, pushing crops to new levels, delivering maximum yields. And if pests and disease levels rose on the back of all that lush green growth, we had more ‘medicine’ on the shelf; after all, this was the golden age of crop protection research and development. Every year brought a clutch of fresh new molecules and every season we’d ratchet up the sprays and applications to make the most of them.
Of course, we began to learn that this wasn’t sustainable. By waiting for a pest or disease to appear before selecting an appropriate treatment from the agrochemical armory, we first came to rely on some of these products and then began to flounder when we saw fungicide-resistant strains of disease appear or noticed a decline in the efficacy of insecticides.
While that was happening in the fields, legislation and consumer awareness was also shifting. Regulators tightened requirements and expectations for agrochemicals, shrinking the number of products available and approving far fewer new molecules. Those that did gain approval were becoming more targeted, more specific: often acting on a single process within a cell.
While this approach makes them considerably more potent — we now apply products at rates measured in ounces rather than pounds — it also leaves less ‘wriggle room’ before resistance develops to render the product less useful.
In addition, consumers now take a much keener interest in food production. Buyers and processors have introduced stricter protocols, with provenance and traceability becoming more important.
The net effect? Farmers can no longer rely on a ‘fix it’ solution; instead, we must build a better crop to begin with, removing the need for prophylactic treatments and anticipating problems before they arise, rather than taking the ‘fire-truck’ approach of throwing everything at it.
That’s why integrated pest or crop management (IPM or ICM) is gaining ground. We’re thinking about what the crop needs at specific stages in its life — seeding, transplantation, flowering, fruiting, rooting, tuberization, ripening, bulking, maturing, you name it — and then planning and selecting the right product for that stage or just before it. This way, we can pre-empt many of the problems for which we would have previously turned to our crop protection armory.
Product selection is at the heart of such a strategy, especially as growers must now observe strict protocols on use, timing and recording of any crop inputs. Take brassicas, for example. Not only do these have a very well-defined sulfur requirement, they are also susceptible to diseases — such as powdery mildew — which can have a detrimental effect on appearance. Given that so much fresh produce is now graded on visual quality alone, maintaining appearance and meeting minimum requirements has become a higher priority than all-out yield, so there’s no tolerance for any disease.
Tackling powdery mildew is a superb example of how growers can practice IPM. Yes, growers can find products that have a direct, fungicidal effect on the disease itself; but, through the correct selection, they can apply a product that better prepares the plant to deal with the disease in its own right.
OMEX®’s Sulphomex®, for instance, is fully approved as a fungicide. But it’s also a foliar fertilizer: applied at the correct timing, it allows the plant to stave off infections in the first place.
A similar ‘priming’ effect is seen with phosphites, which can give growers of crops such as tomatoes and cucurbits a critical edge in managing diseases caused by oomycetes — Pythium and Phytopthora. Phosphite triggers a natural mechanism within the plant called ‘systemic acquired resistance’ — very similar to the human immune system. When triggered, the plant releases proteins that can help the plant either overcome the ‘invader’ — the fungal spore — or minimize its harmful effects.
OMEX® has secured registration for monopotassium phosphite — coformulated with monopotassium phosphate as OMEX® PhorcePhite® — as a fungicide. But it’s also a biostimulant, as phosphite stimulates root development. It’s been embraced by growers who need a product with effective fungicide qualities, while offering zero-day harvest interval and no worker restrictions after the spray dries. Growers in hi-tunnel greenhouses have found it especially valuable, as very few disease suppressant products are approved in these structures. It’s also valuable at transplantation, where it can help young plants develop a stronger root.
Using these ‘dual-purpose’, multifunctional products allows growers to use products in different ways — different times, different purposes — according to their needs. It’s what IPM is all about: assessing all the factors, all the inputs and then making the right decisions to balance them out, for the best result.
Learn more at www.omexusa.com.
The product names and brands referenced here are registered and trademarks of OMEX® Agrifluids, Inc.
© OMEX® Agrifluids, Inc. 2020.