February 01, 2023

Strengthening weed control saves fertilizer investment

NEW ORLEANS — Those 2- to 4-inch weeds that emerge amid young corn plants may appear harmless, but are stealing water, costly nutrients and yields before they are eliminated with a post-emergence herbicide application.

“Save your fertilizer investment for the crop, not the weeds,” said Shawn Hock, Syngenta herbicide product lead.

Weeds compete for sunlight, water, nutrients and space. Syngenta conducted field trials across 20 locations and found that on a per-acre basis, 2- to 4-inch weeds consume 13.5 pounds of nitrogen, 0.85 pounds of phosphorous and 16.8 pounds of potassium.

“To put that in perspective, a bushel of corn requires 0.8 pounds of nitrogen. So, 13.5 pounds of nitrogen consumed by small weeds would have produced over 16 more bushels of corn,” said Hock at Syngenta’s recent media summit. “Up to $24 per acre in fertilizer costs is lost by 2- to 4-inch weeds.”

High Costs

Farmers are used to swings in input prices every year, but because of the combination of global demand, high energy prices, export restrictions on certain global suppliers, the war in Ukraine and the challenges with production, logistics and transportation it was really challenging in 2022.

“Fertilizer prices went from about $100 per acre in 2020 to upwards of $300 per acre in 2022. A lot of farmers were able to position themselves between $100 and $300, and according to University of Illinois ag economists the 2022 fertilizer cost was about $240 per acre. That’s about 2.4 times what it was in 2020,” Hock noted.

“A lot of the same elements exist today as last year. The war in Ukraine is ongoing. Energy prices are not trending down now; they’re going up. There is a diesel fuel shortage. The river system in the U.S. is not looking good, so more things are being transported by rail or truck than what has traditionally been done. Growers should be watching all these things and trying to position themselves the best they can.”

Improved ROI

Hock stressed Syngenta is not promoting the use of less fertilizer, but improving fertilizer use efficiency per unit for a better return on investment.

“We believe the first step in managing fertilizer efficiency is by eliminated weeds all together. Early-season weed control saves all of that fertilizer investment for the crop. Investing that money in a strong, pre-emergent residual herbicide would pay dividends,” he added.

“If we can encourage the idea of investing in a pre-emergent residual herbicide that is effective and safe, we can help growers get more out of their fertilizer, grow higher yields and help answer some of the challenges the world is demanding of us today.”

Herbicide Option

For example, Hock said products like Acuron, which can be applied in a split application with a portion of the rate applied pre-emergence, is uniquely positioned to help growers improve their fertilizer use efficiency by increasing yield.

He said Acuron provides powerful control over a broad spectrum of weeds, has long-lasting residual to keep fields clean and has proven crop safety for developing corn plants.

“When applied as a pre-emergent and at full label rates, we’ve been able to document in our on-farm trials that producers can gain 5 to 15 more bushels an acre compared to other corn herbicide leading brands with Acuron because it controls tough, yield-robbing weeds better,” he said.

“Weeds have undoubtedly increased in prevalence. We did some market research last year and 40% of corn growers said they’re having more difficulty controlling weeds like waterhemp and Palmer amaranth.

“We are always looking at new ways to put active ingredients together to get ahead of weeds. As we continue to bring new concepts to market, residual weed control principles and integrated weed management strategies are important.

“We invest $1 billion annually on crop protection investments. Part of it is formulation. Part of it is looking at new ways to put active ingredients together to continue to make that gain until we get these breaking technologies to market.”

Hock added Syngenta plans to announce a new herbicide concept at Commodity Classic in March.

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor