October 16, 2021

Herbicide supplies — or lack of — are ‘hot topic’

MARKLE, Ind. — Will farmers be able to secure adequate supplies of popular row crop herbicides going into 2022?

“The hot topic right now is lack of supply for certain products going into next season,” said Chad Threewits, Syngenta agronomy service representative for Indiana.

The challenge of suppliers and farmers sourcing enough herbicides for their 2022 growing year needs isn’t limited to a single state or region.

“We are hearing that from our members. It is not an uncommon conversation that we are having with our members. It’s one of the main concerns when I go and talk to retailers. At our MAGIE show last month, the big conversations were about trying to find product,” said Kevin Johnson, interim president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association.

Supply chain issues have impacted every industry, from groceries to Christmas trees — and agriculture hasn’t been spared. Supplies of popular crop herbicides, including glyphosate and glufosinate, along with ingredients to make herbicides, are coming up short and those shortages aren’t likely to end soon.

“The short story is that all of the major active ingredients — if you think about the products that get used on lots of acres, Roundup, Liberty, even some of the products that have atrazine that we use in corn — we are hearing about the shortages all across the board,” said Bill Johnson, professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University.

The Problem

The issues with supplies of herbicides started to gain attention in the spring of 2021.

“Where we really got in trouble this past year, in 2021, at least here in the eastern Corn Belt, is they could get their first post treatment sprayed, but for all the companies that were doing the re-spray thing, it was the re-spray, the second trip over the field, where they were having trouble finding product in a timely manner,” Bill Johnson said.

Kevin Johnson agreed that supply issues ramped up early in 2021.

“When spring started hitting, we started hearing all kinds of concerns about supply issues,” he said.

With many ingredients of popular herbicides being sourced from outside the United States, especially from China and India, issues from transportation to COVID-19′s impact on manufacturing facilities have affected availability.

“Some of it is due to the fact that they can’t get the inert ingredients to use in the U.S. formulation plants and some of it is due to the fact that whatever is happening in the overseas formulation plants, that COVID has slowed their operations, they are not able to get workers or not able to operate their plants. We have a lot of products that are made in China, a lot of products that are made in India. Even getting the inerts produced in those areas has been a challenge,” Bill Johnson said.

The Cause

Kevin Johnson said the supply chain issues go beyond just the chemicals themselves.

“We are seeing it in everything. In some cases, companies were looking for 2.5-gallon lids. Some companies told us that they put everything that’s in a 2.5-gallon jug into a white cardboard box. So, there’s no white cardboard to be found, so they put it in a standard brown cardboard box,” he said.

Threewits echoed that the supply chain issues extend beyond the chemicals and are part of the shipping and supply delays.

“We had a delay in shipping because we could not get the glue to glue the boxes shut on cases of herbicide. We had to go from white to brown boxes, in some cases, to be able to ship products out,” he said.

This is not the first time that popular herbicides have been in short supply.

“If we go back over the last three or four years, there have been some isolated shortages of specific products. I think it was three years ago we were short on metribuzin, Syncor and Tricor are the trade names. Then Liberty was in short supply and that goes back to a lot of that being made in India and there were some issues there,” Bill Johnson said.

One major snarl has been transportation, from global container shipping to the U.S. trucking industry’s shortage of drivers.

“In the retail world, trying to find truck drivers, not just for long haul, but for short haul truck driving, it’s been a nightmare just to get truck drivers. That is one of the biggest issues we are seeing,” Kevin Johnson said.

The Solution

Farmers are urged to talk to their chemical retailers sooner rather than later and to realize that retailers may not have prices for some herbicides.

“What we are telling everyone is to talk to your retailers. I don’t think everyone has the pricing of what stuff is going to be. I think some of them don’t have everything in hand right now versus previous years, where they would already have stocks in hand. Work with your retailers and have those conversations, but in some cases, the retailer might not have the price today and they may not have it until the end of October. I’m hearing from a lot of people that they still need to get enough production so they feel comfortable on giving a price on some of these chemicals right now. They don’t have 100% of their supply bought, so they don’t know where they are at with prices,” Kevin Johnson said.

Bill Johnson said one sector that could be particularly affected is farmers doing no-till and farmers who plant cover crops.

“Whether they are a no-till or a cover crop person, they should be doing something before the crop is put in the ground anyway. Those farmers, in particular, the glyphosate shortage impacts that market the most. The possibility exists that, if someone gets the message that they can’t get enough glyphosate, they may go back to tillage, assuming they have the tillage equipment,” he said.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor