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What BASF is up to with fungicides

Agriculture.com Staff 05/19/2008 @ 6:56am

Disease control has been the reason farmers apply fungicides. In recent years, physiological benefits of strobilurin fungicides have moved into the benefit realm. BASF officials updated media members on this and other topics at a mid-May media summit in Washington, D.C.

BASF trademarked the term plant health to encompass the benefits of its strobilurin fungicide, Headline.

"Plant health goes beyond traditional disease and insect control," says Peter Eckes, senior vice president, global research and development for BASF's crop protection division. "It aims at the optimal physiological condition of the plant. It's a fitness program for the plant. The fitter the plant is, the greater the growth is, and the higher the stress tolerance of the plant is. It helps the plant reach full yield."

Eckes says Headline benefits include:

  • Increased net photosynthesis
  • Increased nitrate reductase activity
  • Enhanced pathogen defense
  • Increased anti-oxidative activity
  • Reduced stress hormone ethylene

Eckes says fungicides regularly trigger these benefits, but they particularly surface under stressful conditions.

Markus Heldt, group vice president, North America, BASF crop protection division, says successful fungicide applications hinge upon three factors:

  • Proper adjuvant selection
  • Proper coverage
  • Proper timing. For example, VT -- or tasseling -- is the best stage to apply a fungicide on corn.

On average, BASF officials say Headline boosted corn yields 12 to 16 bushels per acre and soybean yields four to eight bushels per acre in 1,150 on-farm trials in 2007. These findings have been consistent over a four-year period, say BASF officials.

University trials show smaller yield increases. A 2007 Iowa State University trial, for example, showed an average 3.3 bushel per acre corn yield edge for fungicides across 32 Iowa locations. A University of Illinois compilation of 2007 university trials in 13 Midwestern and eastern states and one Canadian province showed an average three bushel per acre yield edge for fungicides.

A set of 65 2005 university soybean fungicide trials compiled by Marty Draper, former South Dakota State University Extension plant pathologist, showed strobilurin fungicides boosted yields above four bushels per acre one-third of the time. Yields rose between zero and four bushels per acre another one third of the time, while yields decreased in remaining trials.

So why the difference? Heldt reasons universities may be basing results more on small plots, instead of field-size trials. The more air that circulates in smaller plots discourages disease development. Fungicides show more response under high disease levels.

BASF also sees fungicide payoff in wheat. Currently, U.S. wheat farmers treat between 10% and 15% of their wheat acres with a fungicide, says Heldt. He believes there is potential for U.S. wheat farmers to apply fungicides on 25% to 30% of wheat acres in the next five years.

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