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New Life For Row Crop Herbicide Research

BASF doesn’t bill itself as The Chemical Company for nothing. Herbicide-resistant weeds have spurred development of new chemistries, such as its Kixor stable of PPO inhibitor herbicides it launched earlier this decade.

“The herbicide market is going through significant and rapid change that is driven by weed resistance,” Markus Heldt, president of BASF’s crop protection division. “Initially it was in North America, but now it is a global issue. Some existing herbicide programs are no longer working. That is the reality of Mother Nature.”

BASF executives said at the firm’s annual media conference earlier this month in Limbergerhof, Germany, that the herbicide market for corn and soybeans looked dicey when the Roundup Ready system gave flawless weed control earlier last decade.

“Companies slowed down research for a new (herbicide) mode of action,” says Jordi Tormo, vice president of global research herbicides and biological services for BASF.

Holes first started appearing in the Roundup Ready system in 2000, when University of Delaware scientists confirmed glyphosate-resistant marestail. Glyphosate-resistant weeds soon steamrolled through the South and mid-South and are now threatening Midwestern corn and soybeans.

The last corn and soybean herbicides with a new mode of action were the HPPD inhibitors that were first commercialized in the late 1990s (Callisto). Since then, no new modes of action for row crop herbicides have surfaced.

That may be changing, though. Tormo says odds are by the end of this decade or the start of next one, a new corn and soybean herbicide mode of action may be discovered.

“Companies, including us, are working on new modes of action,” he says.

Worldwide Herbicide Resistance

Widespread weed resistance to glyphosate (the herbicide used in the Roundup Ready system) may have surprised farmers, but not the scientific community, he says.

“It was a matter of time,” says Tormo. “Nature is very intelligent.

When you overload a field with one specific chemistry, you are going to have resistance. What was a surprise for us was the speed of (resistance) development across the United States.”

That’s also the case worldwide. “There are big glyphosate-resistance problems in Brazil, due to overuse of the Roundup Ready system,” he says.

Nor is resistance limited to just glyphosate. “ALS (inhibitor) resistance is a huge problem in cereals in the EU (European Union),” he says.

Multiple Modes of Action

One current step farmers can take is to rotate existing herbicide modes of action in combination to manage resistance. BASF’s offerings, for example, include growth regulators like dicamba (Clarity). Impact is an HPPD inhibitor mode of action. BASF’s  Kixor herbicides are PPO inhibitors. Meanwhile, Pursuit is an ALS inhibitor herbicide.

“Right now, farmers have tools in the (weed management) toolbox,” says Heldt. “We want farmers to use them more intelligently and with more flexibility.”


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